Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

3  Attitudes towards children and discrimination

32.  Article 2 of the UNCRC requires that states respect, and ensure that all children can enjoy, the rights contained within the UNCRC "without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child's or his or her parent's or legal guardian's race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status". In addition, states must take all legislative and administrative measures to ensure "such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being".[53]

33.  In its 2008 report, the UN Committee commented with concern on the "general climate of intolerance and negative public attitudes towards children" in the UK and the discrimination which some particular groups of children (such as Roma and Irish Traveller children, migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee children, lesbian, bisexual, gay and transgender children and children belonging to minority groups) continue to experience. It recommended that the UK:

  • address intolerance and inappropriate characterization of children;
  • strengthen awareness-raising and other preventive activities against discrimination and, if necessary, take affirmative action to benefit vulnerable groups; and
  • take measures to ensure that cases of discrimination are addressed effectively, including through disciplinary, administrative and penal sanctions.[54]

Attitudes towards children

34.  Many witnesses reiterated the UN Committee's concerns about negative attitudes within the UK towards children, including their negative portrayal in media and political debate.[55] For example, Save the Children and the Children's Law Centre Northern Ireland told us of:

Growing concern in Northern Ireland … about the pernicious effects of stigmatisation, demonisation and criminalisation of children and young people through a combination of legislative and policy approaches as well as societal discourse and attitudes, often fuelled by hostile media coverage of issues relating to young people.[56]

35.  Research conducted by the Young Researcher Network suggests that although the national media tends to report more negative stories about children, at a local or regional level, the stories about children tended to be more positive. The research concluded that negative reporting was likely to make children feel alienated and angry and negative about themselves, caused stereotyping and impacted on children's daily lives (e.g. interaction with the police, other adults and other young people). However, they also suggested that negative stories had "the potential to be used for education and greater understanding of the problems that some young people face".[57] Liberty suggested that "negative stereotyping of young people has informed the development of much of the law and policy relating to children in recent years".[58] Responses by young Gypsies and Travellers, co-ordinated by the UK Youth Parliament, concluded that the portrayal of Gypsies and Travellers had got worse in recent years.[59]

36.  The Children's Commissioner for England referred to 2006 research showing that 71% of media stories about children were negative and a third were about crime. He said:

Young people feel the media represent them as anti-social, to be feared, selfish, criminal and uncaring.[60]


What is happening now is unprecedented in terms of the persistent demonisation of children and young people.[61]

37.  We asked the Minister for her views on the UNCRC's observations about the negative attitude in the UK towards children and what the Government was doing to address the problem. The Minister told us that the Government was developing:

… PR and communication campaigns which can change the perception of young people. We know that young people around the UK make a tremendously positive contribution to our society; we know that the vast majority of young people behave well at school, achieve, make great contributions as volunteers, and what we want to be able to do through things like National Youth Week, by working with NGOs and young people's organisations is to help to make that more widely understood. We feel very strongly that there is an awful lot more as a Government that we could do.[62]

38.  When we pushed the Minister to explain what exactly she could do to try to change negative press coverage, she explained that the Government is working with local media to provide them with positive stories about children and young people. She also told us that the public relations and communications campaign would be evaluated.[63] We were pleased to hear the Minister's commitment to do more to address negative, damaging and unfounded stereotyping of children and young people within society. Innovative and proactive solutions are required to address this problem, which has the potential to do real harm to the status and aspirations of children living in the UK, who have much to contribute to society. Such solutions should be timely, well-targeted and funded. We recommend that the Government bring forward proposals to deal with this issue and look forward to receiving the evaluation of the Government's communications campaign in due course.


39.  Many examples of different types of discrimination were raised with us. These included:

  • 16 and 17 year olds finding it difficult to access social services and mental health services, and falling in the gap between provision for children and adults;[64]
  • children and young people not being taken seriously when reporting a crime or calling emergency services;[65]
  • children and young people being treated unfairly in public spaces, particularly in shops, using public transport or where "mosquito" devices are in use to disperse crowds;[66]
  • public places such as leisure centres, libraries and transport facilities being unfit for adults with babies and young children;[67]
  • discriminatory attitudes of medical professionals towards disabled children;[68]
  • fertility of disabled children restricted by use of non-essential medical intervention;[69]
  • high incidence of bullying of children with a learning disability;[70] and
  • difficulties for young Gypsy and Traveller children in accessing suitable accommodation, public transport, GP surgeries and safe places to play.[71]

Witnesses also expressed concern at the effects of discrimination on multiple grounds on children, for example in respect of a combination of their age and disability.[72]

40.  We are concerned at the range of problems which were described to us, many of which would have a serious and negative impact on the lives of children and young people. We are particularly troubled, as the UN Committee was, by the evidence of discrimination against especially vulnerable groups of children. The UNCRC implementation plan we have recommended should focus on proposing specific measures in relation to these groups.


41.  A number of witnesses provided specific evidence on the Equality Bill and advocated amendments to the Bill. Evidence included calls to:

  • prohibit age discrimination against under-18s in the provision of goods, facilities and services;[73]
  • extend the single integrated equality duty to cover children's services and education;[74] and
  • make reasonable adjustments in public transport and in access to public buildings for young children.[75]

42.  The Children's Commissioners all referred to age discrimination in a variety of contexts. The Commissioner for England said:

The forthcoming Equality Bill offers a legislative opportunity to enhance children's protection from discrimination and thereby promote their rights and outcomes. Including under-18s in the Bill's proposed age discrimination prohibition and age strand of the single public equality duty is crucial to achieving this goal. We are pleased the Government has signalled that it is willing to seriously consider this latter proposal.[76]

43.  Young Equals provided examples of countries such as Australia which have protected children from age discrimination without excessive litigation.[77]

44.  The Government is not in favour of extending age discrimination to the provision of goods, facilities and services to under-18s arguing that this could have the "unintended effect of diluting protection[s] that are in place" rather than enhancing them.[78] We asked the Minister to explain how extending protection against age discrimination to children would dilute existing protections. She reiterated the Government's concern that by extending protection it might not be able to provide age-appropriate services aimed specifically at children or at children of specific ages.[79]

45.  We doubt that prohibiting age discrimination against children would have the unintended consequences mentioned by the Minister. In particular, we consider that it would be possible to draft an appropriate provision which would prohibit all discrimination on the grounds of age in relation to goods, facilities and services, except where it can be justified. This would allow age-appropriate services to be provided where there was good reason for doing so, such as to respond to the needs of a young child. We recommend that the Equality Bill be amended to extend protection from age discrimination to people regardless of their age in relation to the provision of goods, facilities and services, except where discrimination on the grounds of age can be justified.

53   Article 3(2) UNCRC. Back

54   UN Concluding Observations on the UK, op. cit., para. 25. Back

55   Ev 48, 194, 198 Back

56   Ev 52 Back

57   Ev 200 Back

58   Ev 120 Back

59   Ev 198 Back

60   Ev 28 Back

61   Q 2 Back

62   Q 35 Back

63   Q 36 Back

64   Ev 195 Back

65   Ev 195 Back

66   Ev 195 Back

67   Ev 195 Back

68   Ev 164 Back

69   Ev 165 Back

70   Ev 126 Back

71   Ev 96, 198  Back

72   Ev 90 Back

73   Ev 60, 66, 88, 92, 93, 125, 195 Back

74   Ev 60, 66, 194, 196 Back

75   Ev 60, 197 Back

76   Ev 17, 28 Back

77   Ev 196 Back

78   Ev 74 Back

79   Q 37 Back

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Prepared 20 November 2009