OPTIONAL PROTOCOLS AND RESERVATIONS TO THE
Young people in the armed services
The UK is committed to implementing the Optional
Protocol to the CRC on the involvement of children in armed conflict.
The UK signed the Optional Protocol in September 2000, and takes
great care in the deployment of under l8s so as to prevent their
direct involvement in hostilities. However, before we ratify we
must be satisfied that we have in place the soon to be finalised
detailed procedures and administrative guidelines for the Armed
Forces which will give concrete form to the commitment, as clarified
by the declaration made on signing, to prevent the direct involvement
of under l8s in hostilities.
The sale of children. child prostitution and pornography
The UK Government strongly supports the aim of the
Optional Protocol to strengthen the protection offered by Article
34 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We signed the
Optional Protocol in September 2000 and aim to ratify soon. There
is no question about the UK commitment to the spirit of the Protocol,
but it has emerged that there are a number of complicated issues
that need to be resolved before ratification, and work on this
is underway. These issues include the criminal law on sex offences
in the United Kingdom, since prostitution is not currently an
illegal activity in the UK, nor is buying sex from a prostitute
who has attained the age of sexual consent. The law is therefore
in conflict with language in the Protocol, which requires the
criminalisation of buying sex from a child (anyone under the age
On ratification of the Convention, the United Kingdom
entered a number of reservations. These have now been lifted,
with two exceptions.
Immigration and citizenship
The Government has carefully reviewed the reservation
in respect of Article 22 of the Convention, which deals with immigration
and nationality, in the light of recent requests that it should
be withdrawn. It has concluded that it should be retained. The
Government believes the reservation remains necessary in order
to maintain an effective immigration control. The UK Government
supports the CRC in principle and does not take the view that
the Reservation prevents children's best interests from being
taken into account in practice. Refugee and asylum-seeking children
are still entitled to the protections of the Refugee Convention,
and all children in the UK are covered by the European Convention
on Human Rights.
Children who fall within the Reservation are also
provided with basic education and healthcare, and-will often-qualify
for maintenance and accommodation from the state. In some cases
(such as those of unaccompanied children) local authorities will
assume responsibility for the child's welfare, and social services
may also be provided. The level of support for children here as
part of an asylum seeking family is identical to that provided
for children in families on income support. The Children (Leaving
Care) Act 2000 came into force on 1st October 2001. It imposes
new duties on local authorities, in place of their present powers,
to support children leaving care (including asylum seekers) until
they are at least 18 and to assist them until they are at least
It is clear from the notes of the CRC drafting group
that the Convention was not intended to confer any new rights
in relation to immigration. The Committee will wish to note, however,
that the Government has proposed new measures to address some
specific and practical issues relating to children and to ensure
that the immigration and nationality service is more child centred.
A White Paper published in February 2002 proposes:
I. The phasing out of the voucher system, to be replaced
with cash payments
II. That immigration staff will be able to interview
children about their asylum claims in a wider set of circumstances
than at present. This will give officials a greater understanding
of children's background and circumstances and help them better
determine appropriate levels of care
III. More support for local authorities, by improving
information exchange, communications, partnership working and
models of best practice in the care of unaccompanied minors.
Children in detention
The Government is not yet in a position to withdraw
the reservation about the position of children in adult offender
institutions; however progress has been made to improve the custodial
arrangements for young people, and to provide for their separation
from older prisoners wherever possible.
In England and Wales, in the overwhelming majority
(more than 95%) of cases, juveniles are separated from older offenders.
The issue is more difficult for young women. Because
numbers are low - they account for less than 5% of the juvenile
population in custodythere are practical problems providing
separate accommodation within reasonable distance from home that
can also offer access to appropriate educational and other facilities.
Maintenance of family ties has been shown to be a key factor in
preventing reoffending on release. In practice, this means some
juveniles will be held with 18 to 20 year olds.
There also remain at any one time a handful of individual
young men and women who have to be near to courts and their solicitors
during trials for further offences in areas without suitable juvenile
accommodation. Although held in what are statutorily adult prisons
they do not normally mix with adults unless they require access
to specialist programmes or have a security classification that
dictates where they are held (there is currently only one of the
entire juvenile population who falls into this category).
For these reasons, the Government is not yet able
to set a date for completely ending the use of adult prisons for
juveniles. The number of places within juvenile establishments
is being expanded under an investment programme that started in
2002, but it will take several years to develop each establishment.
It will remain likely that some older and top security juveniles
will still be unsuitable for those local establishments, such
as local authority secure units, that cater for younger and more
vulnerable children in custody.
In Scotland the position depends on the age of the
child. Those aged under 21 and over 16 are classed as young offenders.
On sentence they must, by law, be held in a Young Offenders Institution.
Prior to sentence they may be held in an adult prison, but would
normally be located in accommodation units separate from, and
would not associate with, adult convicted prisoners. The proposed
Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill makes provision for such persons
to be held in a Young Offenders Institution prior to sentence
as this is considered a more appropriate setting for such individuals.
Children (generally those under 16 but including
16 and 17 year olds in certain circumstances) who have been sentenced
to detention are normally held in secure accommodation within
a residential school, usually provided by a local authority. Where,
in exceptional circumstances, a child is considered unsuitable
for such accommodation they may be held in a penal establishment.
Such incidences are rare. Similarly, where a child is remanded
in custody they are generally held in secure accommodation unless,
and in exceptional circumstances, the court has certified that
the child is to be held within the penal system. Again, there
are provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill which, if enacted,
will allow such persons to be detained in a Young Offenders Institution.
As the 1999 report made clear, the UK has now
removed its reservation on Article 32 of the CRC. In 2000, the
UK also ratified the ILO (Minimum Age) Convention 138 and ILO
Convention 182 (Abolition of the Worst Forms of Child Labour).
These conventions came into force in the UK in 2001.
16 and 17 year olds are exempted from the minimum
wage because the Government believes that their priority should
be to concentrate on their education and to acquire the skills
they need to progress. The Government does not wish to see a situation
where young people are encouraged to leave education early by
the prospect of earning a certain guaranteed level of wages. The
Government agrees with the recommendations of the independent
Low Pay Commission that people below the age of 18 should not
be regarded as full-time participants in the labour market but
should be concentrating on their education, and thus should be
exempt from the National Minimum Wage.