Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by the Children's Commissioner for Wales

INTRODUCTORY COMMENTS

  The work of the Children's Commissioner for Wales is underpinned by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).[98] The UNCRC was adopted as the basis of all policy making for children and young people by the Welsh Assembly Government and forms the basis of the Seven Core Aims for all children and young people.

  The Children's Commissioner for Wales along with his three fellow Commissioners across the United Kingdom provided both written[99] and oral evidence to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on 2008.

  I share the Joint Committee on Human Rights concern about the Government's implementation of children's rights in the United Kingdom. This was reinforced by the considerable number of Concluding Observations made by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2008.[100]

  As an independent national children's human rights institution along with the other Children's Commissioners across the United Kingdom, I shall be monitoring the Government's response to and implementation of the Concluding Observations. I hope that, through thorough implementation, the United Kingdom will be able to report real progress in realising these during the next reporting cycle, currently scheduled for 2014.

  It is crucial that we close the gap between policy intent and practice for all children and young people across the United Kingdom. This was an issue that I highlighted in my recent annual report[101] and is particularly pertinent to a small number of the Committee's selected topics.

Children in detention (including the use of restraint and deaths in custody); criminalisation of children;

  In my recent annual review I made reference to issues relating to youth justice, based on the direct work that my team undertake with children and young people held in the secure estate.

  We have one of the lowest ages in Europe for criminal responsibility (10 years) and many of the children in Wales who commit criminal offences are detained in England, far from their families, friends and communities. My staff visit young people in the secure estate and we are aware of the negative impact on them both in terms of family contact and isolation. We assist so that suitable accommodation and support is provided when they are released, that children in need are assessed and that support identified in special educational needs statements is being provided.

  The UNCRC makes it clear that those under 18 should be held in custody only as a last resort. Where detention is necessary I believe that they should remain in Wales, close to their families and all the services they will need to access for their rehabilitation. While this issue is of serious concern in terms of breaches of these young people's rights, the numbers involved are not so large as to make it impractical for responsibilities for youth justice and the secure estate to be devolved.

  The United Kingdom Children's Commissioners' joint report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child drew attention to the use of restraint on children. The Commissioners recommended that the UK Government and devolved administrations should ensure that restraint against children is used only as a last resort and only to prevent harm to the child or others. Pain distraction techniques should not be used on children. The UK Government should withdraw SI2007/1709 widening the use of restraint in Secure Training Centres.[102]

  The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, having reviewed all of the evidence presented, stated that they remain concerned at the fact that, in practice, physical restraint on children is still used in places of deprivation of liberty and recommended that

    39.  The Committee urges the State party to ensure that restraint against children is used only as a last resort and exclusively to prevent harm to the child or others and that all methods of physical restraint for disciplinary purposes be abolished.

  In December 2008, the Independent Review of Restraint[103] and the Government's response[104] to that review were published. The Government's response in my view is in direct conflict with the Committee's Concluding Observation as it still allows for the use of wrist locks. The Government's response also makes very little reference to children's rights and this is a major obstacle to ensuring that future strategy, policy and practice in this important area are compliant with the UNCRC.

  I fully support each of the Concluding Observations made by the UN Committee in October 2008 and will be working with all potential partners to see their full implementation. I am further concerned that there is a hardening of attitudes to children and young people[105] who are increasingly being dealt with by the police. I am very concerned that children can be sentenced to custody for breaching an Anti Social behaviour Order (ASBO) despite not having broken the law to have been awarded that ASBO.

  One of the Children's Commissioners' recommendations not taken forward by the UN Committee was the call for a public inquiry into deaths in custody. I am concerned that the deaths of a number of extremely vulnerable children have not been systematically reviewed to ensure that other vulnerable children are not placed at a similar risk. We have to ensure that children are not seen as failing our systems, instead we need to realise that our systems fail children and do not respect children's rights.

Discrimination against children on the grounds of age or disability;

  In February 2005, the United Kingdom Government established a review of discrimination law. A reference group was established to advise Ministers and officials. In June 2007 the consultation paper "A Framework for fairness: proposals for an Equality Bill for Great Britain were published and the closing date for responses was September 2007.

  In June 2008, the white paper was published, Framework for a fairer future—the Equality Bill.[106] In October 2008, Harriet Harman QC, Secretary of State for Equality, announced in Parliament that the new Equality Bill would include protection from age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services but only for those aged 18 and over. Additionally, it was stated that the integrated equality duty on public authorities will not apply to education or children's services.

Protection from age discrimination in goods, facilities, and services

  I am extremely disappointing that under—18s are set to be excluded from the protection from age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services despite clear representation from the children's sector.

  In research carried out by the Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) for the United Kingdom Government in 2007, under 18 year olds were asked across the United Kingdom, whether they had ever been treated unfairly because of their age, gender, disability, amount of money their family had, skin colour, religion or culture, the beliefs or behaviour of parents/carers, the child's own beliefs, language, sexual orientation or something else. Over 3,900 children and young people participated in the on-line survey in the United Kingdom. 43 % reported that they had been treated unfairly because of their age.

  There is much evidence of children and young people experiencing unfair treatment because of their age in the United Kingdom. For example:

    — 16 and 17 year olds receiving lower levels of certain benefits despite paying the same social security contributions.[107]

    — 16 and 17 year olds do not benefit from the minimum wage which is guaranteed to the adult population.[108]

    — Public places such as leisure centres and libraries and transport facilities being unfit for adults with babies and young children.

    — Children and young people being treated unfairly in public spaces eg in shops,[109] using public transport, or where "Mosquito" devices[110] are in use.

  The United Nation's Committee on the Rights of the Child recently stated in their Concluding Observation 2008 that British children are at risk of being treated unfairly because of a "general climate of intolerance" towards them and that the United Kingdom should "take urgent measures to address the intolerance and inappropriate characterisation of children, especially adolescents, within society, including the media." [111]Discrimination against children and young people and groups of children and young people is in direct contravention of Article 2.1 of the UNCRC.[112] The UN Committee welcomes the United Kingdom Government's plans "to consolidate and strengthen equality legislation, with clear opportunities to mainstream children's right to non-discrimination into the UK Anti-Discrimination Law " and also requests that "all necessary measure are taken to ensure that cases of discrimination against children in all sectors of society are addressed effectively, including with disciplinary, administrative or—if necessary—penal sanctions." [113]

  The proposed exclusion of children from protection against age discrimination is in itself discriminatory and contradicts the underlying values of equality and discrimination law and the United Nations Convention. Vulnerability and dependency are no justification for exclusion from protection from discrimination; indeed they strengthen the need for such protection.

  I believe that legislation to prohibit age discrimination beyond the work place has the potential to transform the lives of children and young people as well as older people by helping to ensure that people are always treated with respect in our society whatever their age. In the absence of legislation that protects children and young people from negative age discrimination many current discriminatory practices are simply not questioned or addressed.

Asylum seeking children;

  The Joint United Kingdom Children's Commissioners' report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, highlighted the many breaches of children's rights within the asylum system. The Committee made a number of key recommendations in relation to these children which I fully support. My colleagues and I were pleased that the Government withdrew its reservation to article 22 during the reporting process and it will be vital that this impacts on the daily experiences of children seeking asylum in the United Kingdom.

  In my Annual Review for 2007-08, I wrote:

    Many of the children and young people who seek sanctuary in Wales have very positive experiences which reflect the genuine care and support in the community and in schools. However there continue to be fundamental breaches of their rights and we made a number of number of representations pursuant to section 75A of the Children's Commissioner for Wales Act 2001 in respect of their detention for long periods of time, transportation conditions from Wales to England, healthcare and overseas student fees. There were some welcome changes in the provision of healthcare but a disappointing response to our representation that children seeking asylum should not be charged overseas student fees if they have been educated in Wales. We have also made representations at a local level where children have the right to the support and protection of social services. We have worked closely with other bodies in Wales and with the English Children's Commissioner to try and improve policy and practise for these vulnerable children.

Child poverty

  I fully support the Concluding Observation of the Committee that

    an adequate standard of living is essential for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development and that child poverty also affects infant mortality rates, access to health and education as well as everyday quality of life of children. In accordance with article 27 of the Convention, the Committee recommends that the State party:

    a)  adopt and adequately implement the legislation aimed at achieving the target of ending child poverty by 2020, including by establishing measurable indicators for their achievement;

  The current economic situation and rising utility costs pose a great threat to child poverty levels across the United Kingdom. Fuel poverty is of increasing concern and steps to ensure that more children are not affected need to be taken. Poverty is a children's rights issue as it impacts on children's enjoyment and exercise of their rights. Poverty also affects the educational attainment of children and it is clear to me that greater focus should be placed on the role of education in alleviating the impact of child poverty.

  It remains unacceptable that more than one in four children in Wales lives in poverty. The task of ensuring that those children at the greatest risk of poverty—including black and minority ethnic children, those in large families, lone parent families, disabled children and children with disabled parents, children leaving care and those in severe and persistent poverty—are prioritised and supported is the hardest but they must be supported more effectively than is the case at present.

  To date, the United Kingdom Government's approach to ending child poverty has made little impact on the levels of inequality in income, health and education. While I welcome Welsh Assembly Government's many initiatives and publications on this issue, it is a sad fact that implementation has been slow and progress regrettably inadequate.

  My predecessor as Children's Commissioner made a stand on this issue and it is something that I had no hesitation in identifying as a priority concern for me when I was appointed

  I will continue to speak out to ensure that action is taken to defend and preserve the progress already made. The slow rate of progress may be regrettable, but to lose ground would be inexcusable.

CONCLUDING COMMENTS

  I welcome the focus of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on children's rights, particularly given the impetus of the recent UN Committee's Concluding Observations. It is vital that the United Kingdom Government as the State Party signatory to the UNCRC is held to account by national human rights institutions such as the Children's Commissioners across the United Kingdom and by bodies such as yourselves. I support the written evidence submitted by my fellow Children's Commissioners from across the United Kingdom.

  It will be extremely important that the United Kingdom Government and the devolved administrations take account of any report that is published as an outcome from this inquiry when they are developing their national action plans.

February 2009






98   Convention on the Rights of the Child http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm Back

99   UK Children's Commissioners' Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Available from http://www.childcom.org.uk/publications/UNCRC_report_final_ENGLISH.pdf Back

100   Concluding Observations United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Available from http://www2.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/docs/AdvanceVersions/CRC.C.GBR.CO.4.pdf Back

101   Children's Commissioner for Wales (2008) Annual Review 07-08.  Available at http://www.childcom.org.uk/publications/Annual_review08_english.pdf Back

102   UK Children's Commissioners' Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Available from http://www.childcom.org.uk/publications/UNCRC_report_final_ENGLISH.pdf Back

103   Peter Smallridge and Andrew Williamson (2008) Independent Review of Restraint in Juvenile Secure Settings Available from http://www.justice.gov.uk/docs/restraint_review.pdf Back

104   The Government's response to the Report by Peter Smallridge and Andrew Williamson of a Review of Restraint in Juvenile Secure Settings (2008) Available from http://www.justice.gov.uk/docs/govt-response-restraint-review.pdf Back

105   Under 12s are implicated in 2,500 crimes in three years. Available at http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/2009/01/26/under-12s-are-implicated-in-2-500-crimes-in-three-years-91466-22777717/  Back

106   http://www.equalities.gov.uk/publications/FRAMEWORK%20FAIRER%20FUTURE.pdf Back

107   UK Children's Commissioners report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Back

108   IbidBack

109   Save the Children (2006) Children and young people in Scotland talk about discrimination. Back

110   UK Children's Commissioners Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Back

111   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008), para 24; Concluding Observations-United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Geneva. United Nations. Back

112   Article 2.1 requires State parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without any discrimination or 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. Back

113   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008), para 24; Concluding Observations-United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Geneva. United Nations. Back


 
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