Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Children's Rights Alliance for England


  1.  CRAE seeks the full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in England. Our vision is of a society where the human rights of all children are recognised and realised.


  2.  We welcome the decision of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (the "JCHR") to conduct this inquiry following the 2008 Concluding Observations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (the "UN Committee"). We have called on the Government to publish a full response to the Concluding Observations, setting out its plans to implement the UN Committee's recommendations.

  3.  The Government has set itself the ambitious target of making England "the best place in the world for children to grow up "1. Given the United Kingdom's position as a leading nation we should aim for nothing less. However, the Government's vision cannot be achieved until children's rights under the UNCRC and other human rights instruments are fully recognised and realised. To this end, we seek the incorporation of the UNCRC into UK law.

  4.  In this submission we restrict ourselves to the subject areas identified in the JCHR's call for evidence. However, considerable further concerns exist such as the increasing erosion of children's privacy in a range of contexts. We would be happy to provide further written or oral evidence on these matters. More comprehensive information is contained in the findings of our recent nationwide children's rights investigation2 and the 2008 edition of our annual report, "The State of Children's Rights in England ".3


  5.  CRAE is a member of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice and we endorse their submissions to this inquiry.

Criminalisation of children

  6.  We refer to the UN Committee's 2008 Concluding Observations and wider international criticism of the UK's appalling record on the criminalisation and incarceration of children, 30 of whom have died in prison since 1990. A complete overhaul of the treatment of children in conflict with the law is required in order to bring the UK into line with its human rights obligations. This should include the abolition of anti-social behaviour orders for children and a statutory safeguard making child custody a genuine last resort.

Restraint in child prisons

  7.  The recently published restraint review4 and the Government's response to it5 fail to address the human rights breaches which were identified in 2008 by the JCHR6 and several international and regional human rights bodies (including the UN Committee7, the Council of Europe's Human Rights Commissioner8 and the UN Human Rights Council9), and which were among the issues considered by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture during its recent UK visit10.

  8.  The review and the Government's response fail to address the findings of the Court of Appeal in AC11. Key outstanding issues include:

  8.1  The Government continues to endorse deliberately painful restraint techniques in breach of articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), interpreted in light of the UNCRC. We do not accept the Government's contention that the techniques are necessary. We have also called on the Government urgently to review its refusal to disclose the Physical Control in Care manual and to clarify its current and past policy on the purposes for which deliberately painful restraint techniques are authorised.

  8.2  We have asked the Government to make clear, in its forthcoming review of legislation on the restraint of children in custody, that restraint is not permitted to ensure good order and discipline. We also seek the explicit statutory prohibition of corporal punishment in child prisons.

  8.3  We have called on the Government to hold an Article 3 public inquiry into the past unlawful restraint of children in secure training centres (STCs), for action to be taken to hold institutions and individuals to account and for those who have been subjected to unlawful force to be enabled to seek redress. This call is made in light of the Court of Appeal's finding in AC that children in STCs were restrained illegally over a long period, including the use of "distraction " techniques.

Detention with adults

  9.  We welcome the Government's withdrawal of the UNCRC reservation concerning the separation of children from adults in detention. However we refer to the annex to this submission, provided by the Howard League for Penal Reform, which details continuing breaches of this requirement. The Howard League's submissions reflect anecdotal evidence received by CRAE's legal advice service.

Detention conditions

  10.  We refer to the concerns about detention conditions raised by children in conflict with the law who participated in the children's rights investigation. These included recommendations from children for longer visiting hours and more time for telephone calls to their families. 12


  11.   CRAE is a member of the Refugee Children's Consortium (RCC). We endorse the RCC's submission to the Committee and the joint submission by Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) and The Children's Society.

  12.  The planned child welfare duty and recently introduced UKBA Code of Practice are welcome developments. However, for the requirements of the UNCRC and other human rights instruments to be met in full, radical changes are required. This includes addressing the following issues:

  12.1  Family destitution caused by the inability to work and limited access to welfare benefits.

  12.2  The treatment of age disputed children.

  12.3  The detention of children for immigration purposes.

  12.4  The need for a statutory requirement to appoint guardians for separated asylum-seeking and migrant children.

  13.  We also refer to the issues raised by asylum-seeking children who participated in the children's rights investigation, revealing barriers to education and healthcare, and negative stereotyping by the media. 13


  14.  In its 2008 Concluding Observations, the UN Committee raised concerns about the negative perception of children in UK society and recommended that the Government should use the Equality Bill to address negative age discrimination against children. However, the Government currently plans to exclude children from this protection, in clear breach of their right to equal treatment. 14

  15.  Age discrimination against children still goes unrecognised and is often not taken seriously. However, the evidence we have received from children and their parents shows that it is a real problem in children's daily lives. Examples include the difficulties faced by 16 and 17 year-olds trying to access social services and mental health services; 15 16 children being treated unfairly in public spaces (including the use of mosquito devices); 17 18 and the unsuitability of public transport for babies and young children. 19 20

  16.  As well as disputing the existence of age discrimination against children, Government claims it would be too difficult to introduce protection because of children's distinct needs. However, we believe measures to provide legal protection for age discrimination can still recognise children's unique status and allow for the continuation of age-specific services and genuine service requirements.

  17.  CRAE co-ordinates the Young Equals campaign group which calls on Government to include the following provisions for children in the Equality Bill:

  17.1  Protection from age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services.

  17.2  Inclusion of schools and children's services in the age element of the new integrated public sector equality duty.

  17.3  Duty to make reasonable adjustments in public transport and in access to public buildings for infants and young children. We refer to the Young Equals submission to this inquiry for further detail.

  Disability discrimination

  18.  We refer to the UN Committee's recommendations concerning discrimination against children with disabilities in relation to their right to family life, their rights to be heard and to participate actively in the community, their right to education and their right to play. We believe the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities without reservations is urgently required to address these and other human rights breaches.

  19.  We also refer to the evidence provided by children with disabilities who participated in the children's rights investigation, revealing barriers to learning and leisure facilities, and inadequate access to public transport. 21 One young disabled person commented:

    ... I would like all people to be able to go to the museum and to meet more deaf people there, go and see films. Television programmes would have signing or subtitles. There would be deaf related news as well. Those things would be nice.


Right to influence decision-making

  20.  The UN Committee has again called for the introduction of a statutory right for children in England to influence decision-making in education22. Evidence collected in the children's rights investigation reflected a continuing lack of meaningful participation. 23 Children said they wanted genuine feedback from teachers and other adults about how their views had been taken into account, and involvement in more serious decisions such as teacher recruitment and setting behaviour policies. 24

  21.  The Education and Skills Act 2008 placed a new duty on Governing bodies to 'invite and consider " the views of pupils. We seek the introduction of regulations to enshrine children's right to influence as broad a range of issues as possible, supported by robust statutory guidance.

Right to appeal exclusions

  22.  The UN Committee has recommended that children should be given the right to appeal against school exclusion. 25 We welcome the Government's proposal to consult on this matter in Spring 2009.

  23.  Seventy-four per cent of respondents to the children's rights investigation who had experienced school exclusion reported that they had not been asked for their side of the story before being excluded. Sixty-nine per cent said they were given no information about how they could challenge the decision or get involved in the exclusion process.

  24.  We believe that all children of sufficient age and understanding should have the right to appeal against school exclusions, the findings of SENDIST and admission decisions. Processes should be child-centred, providing access to independent advocates, to facilitate children's active participation.

Right to protection from bullying and violence

  25.  Following calls from the UN Committee in 2002 and 2008 to "tackle bullying and violence in schools ", this still emerged as a major problem in the children's rights investigation. Children cited physical, emotional and cyber bullying between students as well as bullying of children by teachers, with reports that schools are not always effective in tackling these problems. 26 These concerns are reflected by anecdotal evidence received by CRAE's legal advice service.

  Right to education and discrimination

  26.  The children's rights investigation revealed significant evidence of unequal access to education for minority groups such as asylum seeking children and traveller children. One traveller child commented: 27

    ... I think they should like get gypsies jobs and that where they can sit and settle, for a place for them to learn to read and write and get themselves a business and that, instead of how they go on about, the telly and newspapers and that, about the gypsies, but I think it is wrong. I think like they treat us like scum.


Influencing decision-making

  27.  Effective involvement in decision-making is a continuing problem for children in care, despite some improvements in legislation. Many children reported to the investigation that they had little say in far-reaching decisions such as placement moves and being taken into care, 28 with serious implications for their right to respect for their private and family life. These concerns are reflected in anecdotal evidence received by CRAE's legal advice service.

Making complaints

  28.  Lack of access to independent information and support for making complaints was consistently cited by children during the investigation. Those that were aware of complaints mechanisms often felt unable to use them because they felt they would not be believed, because procedures were not independent, or because complaining was not encouraged. One child commented: 29

    I've done a lot of complaints in about three kids' homes that I've been in and never heard anything back ... I've even wrote to managers and everything and never ever got a reply, probably because I'm too low life and I'm the one in care… I've never seen them rip it up or anything. I can't say that they do that.


  29.  We welcome the Government's proposal for legislation on eradicating child poverty. The legislation must define "eradication of child poverty ", specify interim dates to mark key milestones towards the 2020 goal and require Government to publish annual progress reports. The Government should establish a clear role for inviting independent external challenge and ensure that the child poverty strategy is firmly linked to their other spending decisions, particularly in this challenging economic climate.


  30.  International human rights bodies have repeatedly called on the UK Government to make punitive violence against children illegal, including the UN Committee in its 2008 Concluding Observations. The Government's failure to remove the "reasonable punishment" defence for charges of common assault against children remains a serious blot on the UK's human rights record. 30 CRAE endorses the submission to this inquiry by the Children Are Unbeatable! Alliance.


  31.  CRAE calls on the Government to end the criminalisation of child victims of trafficking and provide safe accommodation and guardians for these children. We refer to the submission by ECPAT UK for further detail.


  32.  The Government has a significant way to go to ensure compliance with the Optional Protocol on the involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC). Of particular concern is the ongoing recruitment of 16 and 17 year olds into the armed forces. The Government has repeatedly stated that it has no intention to raise the age of recruitment.31 Upon signing OPAC, the Government retained the right to send under-18s into conflict in cases of "genuine military need " and "if not practicable to withdraw such persons before deployment "32, in direct conflict with the UNCRC best interests principle.

  33.  Other issues of concern are:

  33.1  Recruitment methods (including targeting children from the poorest backgrounds, failing to give accurate information about life in the armed forces and misleading advertising).

  33.2  The reintroduction of rules requiring those who join the armed forces at 16 to commit to a minimum of six years of services, whilst those who join at 18 need only serve a minimum of four years.

  33.3  The treatment and support available to young recruits and deaths of under-18 year olds whilst in training. 33

  34.  For further information, we refer to submissions to this inquiry by members of the UK coalition to end the use of child soldiers.

  For more information, please contact Katy Swaine, legal director, telephone 020 7278 8222 extension 30;


1  Department for Children, Schools and Families (December 2007). The Children's Plan.

2  Children's Rights Alliance for England (November 2008). What do they know? Investigating the human rights concerns of children and young people living in England. The investigation, conducted in 2007 and 2008, examined the experience of children and young people in exercising their rights in school, at home, and in their communities. The investigation was developed and led by children and young people who conducted focus group interviews and online surveys with 1,400 of their peers living across England.

3  Children's Rights Alliance for England (November 2008). The State of Children's Rights in England: Review of the UK Government's implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child - 2008. This is an updated version of the comprehensive submission made by CRAE on behalf of over a 100 NGOS to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in March 2008.

4  Smallridge P and Williamson A (June 2008). Independent review of restraint in juvenile secure settings.

5  Joint Youth Justice Unit (December 2008). The Government's Response to the Report by Peter Smallridge and Andrew Williamson of a Review of the Use of Restraint in Juvenile Secure Settings.

6  Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (7 March 2008). Use of restraint in secure training centres (HL 65/HC 378)

7  UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (October 2008). Concluding observations: UK and Northern Ireland. (CRC/C/GBR/CO/4).

8  CommDH (October 2008). Memorandum by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for HumanRights of the Council of Europe following his visits to the United Kingdom (5-8 February and 31 March to 2 April 2008) (Issue reviewed: Rights of the child with focus on juvenile justice).

9  Human Rights Council (May 2008). Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (A/HRC/8/25).

10  European Committee for the Prevention of Torture website, accessed February 2009,

11  R (AC) v Secretary of State for Justice [2008] EWCA Civ 882. Recently followed by the High Court in R (Carol Pounder) v HM Coroner for the North and South Districts of Durham and Darlington [2009] EWHC 76 (Admin).

12  Children's Rights Alliance for England (November 2008). What do they know? Investigating the human rights concerns of children and young people living in England, page 50.

13  Ibid, pages 19, 47-50.

14  Government Equalities Office (June 2008). Framework for a Fairer Future—The Equality Bill.

15  Office of the Children's Commissioner (January 2007). Pushed into the shadows. Young people's experience of adult mental health facilities.

16  Office of the Children's Commissioner (October 2008). Out of the shadows? A review of the responses to recommendations made in Pushed into the Shadows.

17  Children's Rights Alliance for England (2008). Get ready for Geneva submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

18  Mosquito devices are electronic devices being used across England to stop teenagers from congregating in public places. They work by emitting an unpleasant high-pitched noise only heard by young people.

19  House of Commons Transport Committee (October 2006). Bus Services across the UK, Eleventh Report of session 2006-06.

20  County Council of The City of Cardiff and County of Cardiff (2006). Family Friendly Cardiff, A Report of the Children and Young People Scrutiny Committee.

21  Ibid, pages 50, 60, 62 and 68.

22  Committee on the Rights of the Child, Forty-ninth session, Concluding observations: UK and Northern Ireland (CRC/C/GBR/CO/4) 20 October 2008. This echoes the Committee's recommendations during its day of general discussion in 2006, its Concluding Observations on the UK in 2002 and its 2001 general comment on education.

23  Children's Rights Alliance for England (November 2008). What do they know? Investigating the human rights concerns of children and young people living in England, pages 15-17, 24.

24  Ibid, page 65.

25  UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008). Concluding observations: United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (CRC/C/GBR/CO/4), paragraph 67h.

26  Children's Rights Alliance for England (November 2008). What do they know? Investigating the human rights concerns of children and young people living in England, pp 55-57; 66-67.

27  Ibid, page 53.

28  Ibid, pages 16-17, 33.

29  Ibid, pp 24 and 49.

30  Section 58 of the Children Act 2004.

31  The UK signed the OPAC in September 2000 and ratified it in June 2003. The declaration was made upon signature and confirmed upon ratification.

32  House of Commons written answers, 21 October 2008: Hansard Column 188W; 10 November 2008: Hansard Column 776W.

33  Blake N QC (March 2006). The Deepcut review. A review of the circumstances surrounding thedeaths of four soldiers at Princess Royal Barracks, Deepcut between 1995 and 2002.

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