Memorandum submitted by the Equality and
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
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
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)
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.
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.
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
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
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.
Mencap reported in 2007 that "an incredible 82% of children
with a learning disability are bulliedthis is 280,000 children"
and six out of 10 are physically hurt.
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.
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".
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.
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".
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.
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
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 49th session, October
2008, para 24. Back
Bullying wrecks lives: the experiences of children and young
people with a learning disability, Mencap 2007. Back
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
B is for Bullied, National Autism Society, 2006. Back
Interfaith Report, Beatbullying, November 2008. Back
UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 49th session, October
2008, para 66(c). Back