Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

UK report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child

1.  We recommend that the UK's next report to the UN Committee should again focus on addressing the UN Committee's most recent Concluding Observations, but with clearer links to future plans (and how their success can be assessed) as well as to the work of the devolved administrations and local government. (Paragraph 11)

Implementation of the UNCRC

2.  We welcome the publication of the Children's Plan and Progress Report, including the Annex pointing to the Government's priorities for implementing the UN Committee's recommendations in England. We note the Scottish Government's decision to consult on implementation of the UN Committee's recommendations in Scotland and suggest that this is an example of good practice which should be followed across the UK. (Paragraph 17)

3.  Although we recognise that the devolved administrations have responsibility for certain areas of children's rights, we note that the UK Government is ultimately responsible for ensuring that it complies with its international human rights obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ("UNCRC"). The role of the UK Government is both to co-ordinate national efforts on implementing the Convention and to report to the UN Committee on progress. (Paragraph 18)

4.  We agree with witnesses that it is not advisable to leave implementation to each nation to deal with separately. We recommend that the UK Government devise a comprehensive and detailed plan for implementation of the UN Committee's recommendations across the UK. This should be completed in conjunction with the devolved administrations and the Children's Commissioners, and be subject to widespread consultation. Crucially, the participation of children and young people should be actively sought and facilitated at all stages in the process, including during the implementation stage. In our view, such a Plan would be beneficial to the Government, devolved administrations, service providers and children and young people themselves. The finalised plan should be published and subjected to regular monitoring and evaluation. We recommend that the Government publishes annual reports in order to monitor progress on implementation more regularly than is required by the UN monitoring process. (Paragraph 19)

5.  The Government has not persuaded us that children's rights are already adequately protected by UK law, nor that incorporation of the UNCRC is unnecessary. We agree with those witnesses who emphasised the benefits of incorporation, accompanied by directly enforceable rights. It is significant that all four Children's Commissioners in the UK, with their extensive experience of working with children, think it would make a real practical difference to children if the UNCRC were incorporated into UK law. However, we recommend that further information be given by the Government about the extent to which the UNCRC rights are or are not already protected by UK law. (Paragraph 28)

6.  We reiterate our recommendation on the merits of including children's rights within any Bill of Rights for the UK. We are pleased to note that the Government is open to the possibility of their special protection, but are disappointed that this does not extend to creating directly enforceable rights or using the Bill of Rights to incorporate the UNCRC. We urge the Government to ensure that it consults widely on this question to ascertain how many of those working closely with children share the Government's view that it would make no practical difference to the lives of children. (Paragraph 30)

7.  We are disappointed that the Government has rejected even our modest proposal that the UNCRC be made the framework of local Children and Young People's Plans. We do not consider the Secretary of State's response to be an adequate answer to the case we made in our Report [on the Apprenticeships, Skills, Children and Learning Bill]. We do not understand why the Secretary of State is content to draw up his own Children's Plan with regard to the principles and Articles of the UNCRC, but is not prepared to require the authorities drawing up local Children's Plans to do the same. We ask the Secretary of State to reconsider and to ask the relevant local authorities to draw up their plans with due regard to the need to implement the UNCRC and the recommendations of the UN Committee. (Paragraph 31)

Attitudes towards children and discrimination

8.  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. (Paragraph 38)

9.  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. (Paragraph 40)

10.  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 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. (Paragraph 45)

Children in the criminal justice system

11.  Whilst we welcome the Government's commitment to reduce the number of first-time entrants to the juvenile justice system, this conflicts with the continuing expansion of the range of offences which apply to children. For the Government's goal to be achieved, it must be coupled with action across Government, particularly the Home Office, to refrain from creating additional offences which lead to the greater likelihood of children being criminalised. In addition, offences on the statute book which may be committed by children should be reviewed with a view to repealing those that are not necessary, such as those that have never been used or have never been the subject of a prosecution. (Paragraph 51)

12.  We are particularly concerned by the high number of children from especially vulnerable and marginalised groups within the criminal justice system. The Government should review and explain why such a disproportionate number of children who are looked-after, Gypsies and Travellers or have autism, are present within the criminal justice system, and why existing strategies appear to be failing. Such children, who are already likely to have experienced significant disadvantage and even discrimination in their early lives, require specific and targeted measures and support, outside of the criminal justice system. (Paragraph 57)

13.  We were pleased to hear the Minister's comments in oral evidence that as children's Minister she would try to safeguard and protect children, including those involved in prostitution. However, her subsequent written response, which reiterates the Government's line on why children involved in prostitution should continue to be criminalised, directly contradicts her oral evidence. This, as we have stated in previous Reports, flies in the face of international standards and the strong observations of the UN Committee; and also breaches the principle that victims of crime should not be criminalised. (Paragraph 60)

14.  We are not persuaded by the Minister's response [on the age of criminal responsibility], which goes against the strong recommendations of the UN Committee and of practice in comparable states. We fail to understand why criminal penalties are necessary to ensure that other services such as family intervention programmes are made available. Whilst we do not underestimate the effects on communities of the offending of some very young children, we do not believe that the UK's current response is consistent with its international obligations to children. Indeed, we consider that resort to the criminal law for very young children can be detrimental to those communities and counter-productive. We endorse the views of witnesses who advocate a welfare-based and child-rights oriented approach. This has the merit not only of being consistent with the UN Convention, but also of bringing about early and positive change in children's lives to prevent them from entering the criminal justice system in the first place. (Paragraph 66)

15.  We would like to see a real reduction in the numbers of children being detained in the UK each year. There is a lack of clarity about the trends in the incidence of child detention, both on remand and sentenced. We are also concerned that some very vulnerable children are significantly more likely to be detained than others. We urge the Government to comply fully with its obligations under the Convention, in particular to ensure that custody is only used as a measure of last resort and to address the reasons for the over-representation of certain groups of children in detention. (Paragraph 77)

16.  We commend the Government for having finally removed its reservation to Article 37 UNCRC, as we have advocated for many years. (Paragraph 79)

17.  We are disappointed to hear of continuing breaches of Article 37 UNCRC, despite the Government's purported intention fully to comply with the Convention, and urge the Government to do all that is required, as a matter of urgency, to ensure that it and the devolved administrations are able fully to meet the UK's international obligations. (Paragraph 83)

18.  We reiterate our strong concerns that pain compliance is still used as a tactic against young people in detention, and used disproportionately against vulnerable girls. We are particularly concerned that this remains the case, even though the independent review recognised that the use of pain compliance techniques would be irreconcilable with the UN Convention. We find this situation to be alarming and to go against the Government's espoused commitment to the best interests of the child. The Minister failed to persuade us that such techniques are necessary or consistent with the Convention. We reiterate our previous conclusions that techniques which rely on the use of pain are incompatible with the UNCRC. (Paragraph 94)

19.  We are pleased to note the Government's positive proposals for improving the education of detained children and young people, including those with special educational needs, which are consistent with the UNCRC. (Paragraph 99)

20.  Anti-social behaviour is an issue which rightly causes widespread concern within the UK. We do not underestimate the extent to which anti-social behaviour, by children or adults, can fundamentally blight the lives of individuals and communities. We commend the Government's commitment to tackling this issue. Indeed, human rights law may require it where the effect of the anti-social behaviour is to interfere with the rights of others to respect for their home or not to be discriminated against. We question, however, the degree to which anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) hasten children's entry into the criminal justice system, before other strategies have been tried. (Paragraph 105)

Asylum-seeking, refugee and trafficked children

21.  We are pleased to note that the UK Government has withdrawn its reservation to Article 22 UNCRC. (Paragraph 110)

22.  We welcome the Government's decision to withdraw its reservation to Article 22 of the Convention. This reservation had excluded children seeking asylum from the full range of rights under the Convention. Whilst the UK Government may legitimately exert control over its borders, removal of the reservation expresses the value given to protecting the rights of asylum-seeking children and acts as a reminder that such people are first and foremost children, who deserve to be treated with humanity whilst they remain in the UK. We are surprised however that the UK does not consider that any changes are required in the light of the removal of the reservation. At the very least, we would expect that training and policy papers would need to be updated in order to ensure that decision makers have access to correct and authoritative information as to the current legal requirements. We recommend that the Government justify its argument that the withdrawal of the reservation to Article 22 of the UNCRC does not require any change to current practice or policy in this area. (Paragraph 113)

23.  We welcome the Government's commitment to finding alternatives to detention of asylum-seeking families. However, the evidence we have heard leads us to believe that realistic alternatives have not yet been properly set up, tested or evaluated. We urge the Government to evaluate and learn the lessons of the Millbank Pilot and apply them to future projects, including the pilot in Glasgow. In particular, we agree with witnesses who suggest that alternatives to detention will only be effective if they are commenced sufficiently early and accompanied by good communication with families so as to encourage them to engage with the authorities. (Paragraph 122)

24.  We are disappointed that, more than two years after our Report on the Treatment of Asylum Seekers, age-disputed children continue to be poorly treated and to experience the problems we previously identified. We reiterate our previous recommendations that x-rays and other medical assessment methods should not be relied upon to determine age, given the margin of error. The process for dealing with age disputes should be reviewed with a view to ensuring that no age-disputed asylum seeker is detained or removed unless and until an integrated age assessment has been undertaken. (Paragraph 124)

25.  We welcome the steps taken by the Government in adopting a new Code of Practice and statutory duty which have the potential to provide greater protection to the human rights of child asylum seekers. We urge the Government to ensure that all staff are appropriately trained on their new responsibilities, that robust mechanisms are put in place to monitor and ensure compliance with the duties and that accessible information is provided to those seeking asylum on how they can expect to be treated by the UK Border Agency in the light of these responsibilities. We will continue to monitor developments in this area. (Paragraph 132)

26.  We are pleased to note that the UK has now ratified the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Pornography and Child Prostitution and will be looking, in the future, for evidence of its effects on UK practice for trafficked children. (Paragraph 135)

27.  We intend to follow up our previous inquiry into human trafficking before the end of the current Parliament and will raise some of the issues raised with us in that context. (Paragraph 138)

Children and armed conflict

28.  We note the UN Committee's extensive set of recommendations to the UK on compliance with the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Children in Armed Conflict. We recommend that the UK adopt a plan of action for implementing the Optional Protocol, including these recommendations, fully in the UK, together with a clear timetable for doing so. (Paragraph 143)

Child Poverty

29.  We aim to report on the Child Poverty Bill before its Report stage in the Commons. (Paragraph 148)


30.  We will return to some of the issues [identified by witnesses] when we consider education as part of our scrutiny of the Equality Bill. (Paragraph 152)

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