Joint Committee On Human Rights Tenth Report


Child Poverty

  66.  The UN Committee recommended that the UK undertake "all the necessary measures to the 'maximum extent of available resources' to accelerate the elimination of child poverty".[111] The Government's response accepts "that the levels of child poverty in the UK are unacceptable", and lists measures taken to "reverse the legacy we found when we came to office". As discussed above (paragraph 16), alternative measures, including clusters of indicators of material deprivation, are under active consideration. The Government's commitment to tackling child poverty is well­known and often restated.[112] As the UN Committee comments, it is likely to be poverty which most dramatically limits and compromises children's enjoyment of the rights set out in the Convention, and that is the wider context in which the Government's record in relation to the UNCRC should be assessed.

Children's Mental Health

  67.  The recommendations of the UN Committee relating to the right to health[113] seem to us to be best addressed in the context of the overall setting of priorities in the NHS—few of them appear to raise issues which are not the subject of current debate and/or action in the UK, including, for example, the promotion of breastfeeding and the reduction of teenage pregnancy. In relation to the UN Committee's comment on the high rate of adolescent suicide, however, we recall that the President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health told us that—

    ... child and adolescent mental health services in this country are a total disgrace. There are many places where the waiting list is 18 months or more. If that were an adult service there would be a public outcry but this is just accepted as being the situation.[114]

Young Minds, a children's mental health charity, also made similar points in their submission to us, particularly in relation to the deprivation of other rights that children suffer on being taken into the mental health services.[115] We commented on some of these issues in our report last year on the Draft Mental Health Bill.[116] In this context, we note the Minister for Children and Young People's reply to the Westminster Hall debate on the Convention, when he drew attention to the announcement—

    ... of a significant expansion of child and adolescent mental health services during the next three years as a result of the spending review ... Mental health has been regarded by many ... as an area in which we did not do as much as we should have done for children ...[117]

We are certainly among those who welcome this announcement.

Female Genital Mutilation

  68.  In the light of evidence of the continuation of the practice of genital mutilation (FGM, sometimes termed female circumcision) of girls in the UK we consider that the UN Committee was right to remind the Government of its obligation under Article 19 of the Convention to take not only legislative, but also administrative, social and educational measures " ... to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse ... " The physical pain, mental anguish, threat to life, harm to sexual and reproductive health and discriminatory nature of female genital mutilation makes it a grotesque violation of children's rights.

  69.  We applaud the Department of Health's funding to the organisation FORWARD for cross­discipline training to mobilise professionals from various disciplines to meet the needs of women and girls affected by FGM. However, it is widely alleged that FGM continues to be practised both within private hospitals in the UK and on girls sent from the UK to countries where the operation has not been outlawed. While exact figures are impossible to calculate, FORWARD estimates that currently 20,000 girls under the age of 16 who live in practising communities may be at risk in the UK.[118] To date there have been no prosecutions relating to FGM in this country.

  70.  Ann Clwyd MP has presented a Private Member's Bill to "restate and amend the law relating to female genital mutilation", which received its Second Reading in the House of Commons on Friday 21 March.[119] As well as restating the current law,[120] it makes extra­territorial provisions.[121] But, as a report by the All Party Parliamentary Group on Population Development and Reproductive Health, based on hearings held in 2000, emphasised, "the adoption of legislation alone to ban FGM is not enough". We too stress the need for the Government to invest more energy into culturally sensitive, educative approaches for the effective eradication of this gross breach of the rights of young girls.

111   See Annex 3, para 44. Back

112   See for example HC Deb., 24 October 2002, cc 139WH to 141WH. Back

113   See Annex 3, paras 40 and 42. Back

114   Twenty-second report, op cit, Q 285 [Professor David Hall]. Back

115   Young Minds, Ev 40-42. Back

116   Twenty-fifth Report from the Committee of Session 2001-02, Draft Mental Health Bill, HL paper 181/HC 1294, paras 18, 19, 28 and 80. Back

117   HC Deb., 24 October 2002, c 179WH. Back

118   This estimate is from extrapolations from the Labour Force Survey 1999 based on their being eight practising communities in the UK. Back

119   Female Genital mutilation Bill, HC Bill 21, see HC Deb., 21 March 2003, cc 1190-1210. Back

120   Prohibition of Female Circumcision Act 1985. Back

121   See Eighth Report, Session 2002-03, Scrutiny of Bills: Further Progress Report, HL Paper 90/HC 634. Back

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