Joint Committee On Human Rights Tenth Report


  112.  The Government has assumed obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child which include the duty to implement its provisions to the maximum extent possible within the UK, to publicise those provisions and to make periodic reports on its implementation.[197] It is the job of Parliament to hold Government to account for the discharge of such obligations.

  113.  In their Concluding Observations, the UN Committee referred approvingly to a number of Government initiatives which have advanced compliance with the Convention. We agree that the Government has given serious attention to issues affecting children's rights, but the evidence suggests that its record of achievement is uneven and, in criminal justice and penal matters at least, questionable.

  114.  On an initial reading, the impression given by the UN Committee's observations and recommendations is of numerous breaches of the Convention and widespread failure to protect children's human rights within the UK.[198] This seems to us to misrepresent the UK's record to a significant extent. However, the Government itself recognises that there is still more work that needs to be done.[199] We have sought in this report to place the UN Committee's concerns in the political context of competing priorities for limited resources, but we too acknowledge that the UK has some way to go before it could be said to be in full compliance with the CRC.

  115.  We conclude that the reporting process under the Convention has the potential to provide impetus to develop a culture of respect for children's rights within Government, and focus attention on the impact of policy, practice and legislation upon children. The quality of the dialogue between the Government and the UN Committee could certainly be improved. Both sides need to give attention to how this might be achieved, but the Government is the partner with the resources, and therefore the prime responsibility, to make the principles of the Convention a reality in the lives of children in the UK.

  116.  We intend to play a part in holding the Government to its commitment to use the Convention's principles to inform all its future work with children. We have not, however, attempted to review in this report every possible aspect of the impact of the Convention on the policies and practice of Government and public authorities.[200] Progress towards fuller compliance with the Convention cannot be assured if it is only measured once every five years or so. It requires more sustained attention, and the Government's achievements in this area need to be subject to more regular independent audit. A children's commissioner for England, whose establishment we recommended in our Ninth Report,[201] could have a valuable role to play in providing this independent scrutiny. The establishment of a children's commissioner for England, working in collaboration with the commissioners for Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, would, we believe, help to promote respect for the rights of children throughout the UK. We reiterate the conclusion of our earlier report here—independent human rights institutions are, we believe, necessary catalysts for change, not a sufficient excuse for others to neglect their responsibilities to respect and advance the rights of the child.

197   Articles 4, 42, 44.6 and 44.2. Back

198   We have condensed the UN Committee's concerns into a list of 84 concerns raised which is printed as Annex 5 to this report. Back

199   See Annex 4. Back

200   After our inquiry was announced, we received a large number of letters from members of the public urging us to consider the implications of the words of the preamble to the Convention: "... Bearing in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth ...". The burden of these submissions has been that the UK Government should withdraw its Declaration, made on ratification, that "it interprets the Convention as applicable only following a live birth". [See for example letter from SPUC, Ev 40] They go on to argue that complete adherence to the wording in the Preamble would, in their view render abortion non-compliant in most circumstances. We note these submissions, and recognise the strongly-held views of those who have made them. However, the validity of the UK's Declaration is not an issue we intend to explore in this report. Back

201   Ninth Report, Session 2002-03, The Case for a Children's Commissioner for England, HL Paper 96/HC 666. Back

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