Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Equality and Diversity Forum

  1.  The Equality and Diversity Forum is the network of national organisations committed to progress on age, disability, gender, gender identity, race, religion or belief, sex, sexual orientation and broader equality and human rights issues.

2.  We welcome your inquiry into children's rights, an area that we feel tends to receive insufficient attention. Our members include some organisations that specialise in issues concerned with children but the Forum itself is not involved in all of the issues within the inquiry's terms of reference. We have therefore limited our memorandum of evidence to three topics:

    —  Discrimination against children on ground of age or disability;

    —  Physical punishment; and

    —  Discrimination against children in education.

  3.  We welcome the Government's announcement in September 2008 that it is removing it's reservations to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in respect of immigration and children in custody with adults.


  4. We are mindful of the findings reported UK's report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) that:

    the most common form of unfair treatment reported by children and young people related to that based on age (43%), followed by gender (27%) and beliefs (18%). Reporting of age discrimination increased with age from 29% for under 11s to 64% for 16-17-year-olds. Of those who described themselves as having a special need or disability, 55% felt that they had experienced unfair treatment for this reason. 38% of Black children, compared with 31% of Asian children, reported that they had been treated unfairly because of the colour of their skin. In terms of religion, Muslim children (38%) and Sikh children (31%) were most likely to report that they had been treated unfairly because of their beliefs. Looked after children and Traveller children also reported experiences of unfair treatment because of their status/colour.[207]

      And the further concerns noted by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in its concluding observations in its 49th session in October 2008:

    the Committee is concerned that in practice certain groups of children, such as: Roma and Irish Travellers' children; migrant, asylum-seeking and refugee children; lesbian, bisexual, gay, and transgender children (LBGT); children belonging to minority groups, continue to experience discrimination and social stigmatization. The Committee is also concerned at the general climate of intolerance and negative public attitudes towards children, especially adolescents, which appears to exist in the State party, including in the media, and may be often the underlying cause of further infringements of their rights.[208]

  These findings highlight not only the effects of their particular status on the way that children are treated but also the effects of multiple discrimination (ie discrimination experienced on more than one ground). We consider that there should be provisions in the next Equality Bill to provide an effective remedy for multiple discrimination.

  5.  The EDF considers that there should be no discrimination against children either on grounds of their age or on grounds of their disability. At the same time we recognise the need for services and policies relating to children that are designed in an age-appropriate way. This may of course in some instances involve children being treated more favourably than adults. Equally, it may involve maintaining some restrictions (such as age bars on buying alcohol or tobacco) affecting children and young people.

  6.  It is also important to ensure that children do not fall through age gaps in provision. There appears to be evidence, for example, that in some areas children are excluded on age grounds from some children's health and social care services before they have reached the age that allows them access to adult services.

  7.  The EDF welcomes the fact that the UK government has signed up to the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. However, we would urge the Government to complete the process by ratifying the Convention promptly without reservations. We welcome the announcement on 3 February 2009 that the Government will sign the optional protocol. This would have clear benefits for children with disabilities.


  8.  Although children and their rights fall outside the remit of some of our member organisations, many of our members are deeply concerned that physical punishment of children remains lawful in our country. There are a number of reasons for this concern. We recognise that for many people this is a sensitive and personal issue. However, we also see it as one of equality and of human rights where reform is necessary to protect some of the most vulnerable members of society. The most recent detailed research evidence of which we are aware shows that two thirds of mothers say that they smack their babies before the age of one and one fifth of children had been hit with implements. Law reform would lead to a change in behaviour and we believe that prosecution of parents is likely to be rare. We support the view of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that equal protection against assault for children is "an immediate and unqualified obligation". We are concerned that although the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommended prohibition to the UK in 2002, this has not yet been implemented and consequently in 2005 the European Committee on Social Rights found the UK in this respect to be in breach of the European Social Charter. We also note that the European Court of Human Rights has made clear that violent discipline cannot be justified on grounds of religious belief.

9.  We are concerned that the UK is one of only four of the 27 countries in the EU that has not provided equality protection against assault for children or made a commitment to do so. In the UK we are aware that both your Committee and the Health Select Committee (2003) have argued that UK law should be brought in to line. All of the major professional associations concerned with safeguarding children including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health take that view.


  10.  The EDF considers that it is clear that discrimination and harassment do occur in schools and have damaging consequences for children and young people. Where such discrimination and harassment are allowed to go unchallenged or are even perpetrated by those employed in the school, the damaging effect may extend beyond the individual pupils affected by the poor example set to other pupils. Consequently discrimination and harassment within education do need to be prohibited.

11.  A 2007 Stonewall report, The School Report, concluded that 65% of lesbian and gay secondary school pupils in Great Britain had experienced homophobic bullying, 41% of these had been physically bullied and 17% had experienced death threats.[209] Mencap reported in 2007 that "an incredible 82% of children with a learning disability are bullied—this is 280,000 children" and six out of 10 are physically hurt.[210] The Office of the Children's Commissioner for England has reported that disabled children are twice as likely as their peers to become targets for bullying.[211] In 2006 the National Autistic Society reported that it had found that "at least 40% of parents of children with autism and 60% of children with Asperger's syndrome report that they have been bullied at school; but because of the nature of the condition, it is likely that this figure is understated".[212] The UK charity Beatbullying has just reported that of over 800 children between 11 and 16-years of age 23% reported being bullied because of their religion or belief.[213] Although few statistics are available, charities representing transgender and intersex people report that children who do not identify with the gender in which they are being brought up are also particularly likely to be bullied and are more likely to leave education early as a result.

  12.  These are not figures that can be easily dismissed or ignored and the EDF shares the concerns expressed by the UNCRC when they noted that bullying "may hinder children's attendance at school and successful learning".[214]

  13.  There are also problems with enrolling in school for some groups. We are particularly conscious of the problems experienced by the children of Gypsies and Travellers who often find it difficult to enrol in schools partly because of the difficulty that their parents experience in finding appropriate places to live. Whilst some education authorities provide a Traveller Education Support Service there are many who do not and a statutory requirement to put in place such a service could raise the education achievement level for Gypsy and Traveller children.

February 2009

207   Quoted in Consolidated Third and Fourth Periodic Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, UK Government, 2007, page 34, paragraph 3.2. Back

208   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 49th session, October 2008, para 24. Back

209 Back

210   Bullying wrecks lives: the experiences of children and young people with a learning disability, Mencap 2007. Back

211   Bullying Today: A Report by the Office of the Children's Commissioner, 2006 see also Spotlight briefing: Bullying and disability, The National Children's Bureau, 2007. Back

212   B is for Bullied, National Autism Society, 2006. Back

213   Interfaith Report, Beatbullying, November 2008. Back

214   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 49th session, October 2008, para 66(c). Back

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