Joint Committee On Human Rights Ninth Report

3. Conclusion

42. Children experience difficulties different from those of adults in benefiting from full enjoyment of their human rights. These difficulties involve systemic problems of philosophy, culture and understanding. They also derive from the lack of a rights-based approach to children, ignorance among children themselves that they are entitled to human rights protection and insufficient meaningful participation by children in decisions that affect them. In important respects, children are not as equal as adults, notwithstanding the requirement in Article 2 of the CRC for the Government to "take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination". Children are vulnerable to exploitation and oppression in ways that adults are not.

43. We conclude that the Government's arguments for further delay do not carry conviction. We recommend that the Government declare now its commitment to the principle of establishing a children's commissioner for England. But we recognise that because the child population of England is four times that of Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales put together, a different approach and structure may be needed.

44. We recommend the establishment of a children's commissioner who would be a champion for the children of England, independent from but working closely with central government and other agencies. The commissioner would use the principles of the CRC as a guide and measure in considering delivery of services to children by government and public authorities, and would involve children as much as was appropriate in its work. The commissioner would pursue children's interests by promotion, advocacy and investigation. The commissioner would carefully select issues for investigation where it was felt these could make a difference to children, in partnership with NGOs, experts and service providers. The commissioner should not be empowered to investigate complaints from individual children but would be able to work with existing advice and assistance services maintained by other organisations to monitor policy implications of issues raised by children.

45. We favour a separate, identifiable champion for children. The work of the commissioner should be grounded in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but it is clear that those who advocate the establishment of this office want it to go wider than a purely rights-based approach, operating as a spur to better co-ordination of children's services and an advocate within Government of the child's viewpoint.

46. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recently commented—

Specialist independent human rights institutions for children, ombudspersons or commissioners for children's rights have been established in a growing number of States parties. Where resources are limited, consideration must be given to ensuring that the available resources are used most effectively for the promotion and protection of everyone's human rights, including children's; and in this context, development of a broad-based NHRI including a specific focus on children is likely to constitute the best approach. A broad-based National Human Rights Institution should include within its structure either an identifiable Commissioner specifically responsible for children's Rights or a specific section or division responsible for Children's Rights.

It is the view of the Committee that every State needs an independent human rights institution with responsibility for promoting and protecting children's rights. The Committee's principal concern is that the institution, whatever its form is able to independently and effectively monitor, promote and protect children's rights. It is essential that promotion and protection of children's rights is "mainstreamed" and that all human rights institutions existing in a country work closely together to this end.[68]

47. For practical reasons, as well as considerations of principle, we consider that the children's commissioner for England will need to be closely linked in some way with the wider human rights commission we have already proposed in our Sixth Report. There is the potential to make shared use of some support services. This practical arrangement should not, in our view, compromise the role of a commissioner as an independent champion for the children of England.

48. That champion is not a substitute for government mechanisms, not a replacement for NGOs, advisory services and charities, and will not have power to usurp parents. A children's commissioner is not the answer to all the problems children face but it can be a channel through which the voice of children can be heard more clearly. An independent human rights institution for children is, we believe, a necessary catalyst for change, not a sufficient excuse for others to neglect their responsibilities to respect and advance the rights of the child.

68   United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 2, 4 October 2002, paras 6 and 7 Back

previous page contents next page

House of Lords home page Parliament home page House of Commons home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2003
Prepared 12 May 2003