Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by Wales United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child Monitoring Group

  The Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group is a national alliance of agencies tasked with monitoring and promoting the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in Wales.

  The Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group consists of Action for Children, Aberystwyth University, Barnardos Cymru, Cardiff University, Children in Wales, Funky Dragon, Nacro Cymru, NCH, NSPCC Cymru, Save the Children Wales (Chair), Swansea University, Save the Children (Chair), Observers: Children's Commissioner Office for Wales, Equality and Human Rights Commission, Welsh Assembly Government, Welsh Local Government Association, Children and Young People's Partnership Support Unit.

  This response gives brief consideration to and makes recommendations regarding the children's rights themes outlined below:

    — General measures of implementation.

    — Child poverty.

    — Asylum seeking children.

    — Criminalisation of children and young people.

    — Children with disabilities.

    — Age discrimination.

1.  GENERAL MEASURES OF IMPLEMENTATION

  The UK Government must ensure that it takes forward the Committee on the Rights of the Child's Concluding Observations 2008[569] and those which relate to the "General Measures of Implementation". The "General Measures" relate to the articles of the UNCRC which set out action to be taken by States to ensure that the UNCRC is fully implemented.[570]

  The Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group recommends the UK Government:

    — Publishes a detailed UK Government Action Plan on the implementation of the UNCRC, which includes proposed action on all the UN Committee's recommendations, including all previous recommendations.

    — Establish key milestones towards achieving the UN Committee's recommendations.

    — Establish interim dates by which actions on these milestones will be achieved.

    — Brings all legislation in to line with the UNCRC.

    — Takes the opportunity of the upcoming British Bill of Rights to incorporate the principles and provisions of the UNCRC into domestic law.

    — Commits itself to regular appraisals of budgets to determine the proportions spent on children.

2.  CHILD POVERTY

2.1  Child Poverty Bill

  We welcome the Government's recent commitment to legislate to eradicate child poverty by 2020, which takes forward the UN Committee's recommendation.[571] We believe that a solid legislative framework will shape and drive policy and direct resources to tackle child poverty and improve outcomes for children. The bill is also an opportunity to ensure a robust monitoring framework to hold Government to account so that the UK keeps on track for eradicating child poverty by 2020.

  The Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group agrees with the End Child Poverty Network's principles, stating that the legislation should include:

    — Define "eradication of child poverty". The Government currently measures children experiencing relative low income, before housing costs, in three ways:

  (a)  Children living in a household whose annual income is below 60% of the contemporary median equivalised household income.

  (b)  Children living in a household that is both materially deprived and whose annual income is below 70% of the contemporary median equivalised household income.

  (c)  Children living in a household whose annual income is below 60% of the equivalised median income level in 1998-99, held constant in real terms.

  The Government has indicated that the UK should be among the best in Europe on measure (a) and that measures (b) and (c) should approach zero; we agree. The relative low income target should be set at a precise numerical target of 5%[572] or below. This is to ensure that the UK sets its ambitions at achieving the lowest, sustainable rate possible. In addition, we wish to see the inclusion of a measure of persistent poverty which should approach zero.

    — Include a statutory duty on the UK Government to work with the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Any income targets would be UK wide as the tax and benefits system is not devolved. However, different elements of social policy, for example health and education, are devolved across the UK and achieving sustainable progress will require different tiers of Government working together.

    — Statutory duty for publishing progress reports

    An annual progress report, including data on the extent of child poverty and future priorities must be published annually and laid before Parliament.

    — Clear process and timescales

    It is crucial that all strategy documents relating to ending child poverty are comprehensive and prepared in consultation with the Devolved Administrations and delivery agencies. There must be a duty on Government to publish strategy documents every three years and lay them before Parliament. There should also be specified interim dates by which steps or key milestones towards the 2020 goal should be achieved.

    — Link to Government spending decisions

    The child poverty legislation must be linked to key Government spending decisions, including Comprehensive Spending Reviews, annual pre-budget reports and budgets and sufficient resources must be agreed by Parliament. Achieving constant, sustainable progress on raising family incomes and narrowing the gaps in other outcomes will require adequate resources at both national and local level, which could include bending existing funding streams. Such decisions need to be taken within existing Government processes for allocating and reviewing expenditure.

    — Poverty-proofing' policies at both national and local levels

    The Government must ensure there is a duty on all Whitehall departments and on local authorities to undertake and publish a poverty impact assessment of all policies, which is also replicated across the Devolved Administrations.

    — Independent external scrutiny body

    The Government must ensure that there is a clear mechanism for independent scrutiny and engagement with stakeholders, including children and families living in poverty.[573] Legislation must require the Government to have regard to the scrutiny body when setting or reviewing its 2020 strategy and producing annual progress reports.

2.2  Invest £3 Billion

  Additionally the UK Government must help children in practice and urgently invest the £3 billion a year needed to lift children out of poverty.

  The Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group recommends the UK Government:

    — Ensure the Child Poverty Bill is underpinned by the principles developed by the End Child Poverty coalition (see above).

    — Give priority to investing £3 billion a year to lift children out of poverty.

3.  ASYLUM SEEKING CHILDREN

3.1  Detention

  The detention of asylum seeker children for immigration purposes continues to be UK Government policy. Although there are no detention facilities in Wales, children are removed from Wales and detained elsewhere in the UK. Children are removed from familiar and supportive settings and detained with adults, with limited access to education, health services or legal support. The length of detention varies between seven and 268 days yet current safeguards are inadequate for ensuring that children in detention are protected from harm. Bail for Immigration Detainees (2008)[574] estimate that during 2005-06, over 40% of children at Yarlswood were detained. unnecessarily. We consider detention to be a serious breach of this vulnerable group of children's rights and now that the general reservation has been removed to the UNCRC we request that the UK Government puts the best interests of these children first and foremost, alike to citizen children.

3.2  Early Morning Removals

  There are long term concerns amongst professionals that children experience stress, fear and long-term trauma when their family is forcefully removed from their property. There is anecdotal evidence that children have been forced to travel separately from their family, are not given the appropriate breaks when they travel and that the amount of force used is not commensurate with the task of removal.[575]

3.3  Returns

  We are concerned that separated children must only be returned to their country of origin or third county only if this is demonstrably in the child's best interests. Additionally UK BA must have regard to safeguarding issues for children who are on the child protection register when considering the return of children in families.[576]

3.4  Guardianship

  The provision of social services support and care for the majority of separated children is through sections of legislation that do not confer parental responsibility. There are no mechanisms to ensure this disempowered and vulnerable group of children have their best interests promoted or have their wishes taken into account within the legal process.

  The Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group recommends the UK Government:

    — Immediately end the detention of asylum-seeking children.

    — Put the best interest of the child first when undertaking the forceful removal of a family.

    — Only return a child to their country of origin or third country if it can be demonstrated to be in their best interests.

    — Secure a legal duty for every separated child to have a statutory guardian to provide support and advice on the child's best interests.

4.  CRIMINALISATION OF CHILDREN AND YOUNG PEOPLE

4.1  Age of criminal responsibility

  The UK Government has refused to raise the age of criminal responsibility, remaining at 10 years in England and Wales. This is despite the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommending that it be raised in their Concluding Observations 2002 and 2008 and more latterly indicating the age of criminal responsibility should be no less than 12 years of age.

4.2  Detention

  Children continue to be detained on remand and sentenced in greater numbers, at lower ages and for less serious offences.[577] The use of prison custody has long been regarded as unsuitable for children and numerous organisations, including the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child have called for its abolition.

4.3  Conditions in detention

  Existing concerns remain about the conditions in detention for young people as evidenced by the latest annual report (2007-08) from H M Chief Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales, which continue to cite problems. Self-harm and suicide as well as deaths following assault or staff restraint, continue to be a matter of concern. There is also continuing discrimination in the application of child welfare legislation in secure training centres. Despite a commitment from the UK Government to review the entire system governing pain restraint, we remain concerned about its use in custodial settings. Accepting that there may be circumstances where physical restraint is necessary to protect a child or young person from their actions or others, this should only be used as a measure of last resort and clearly defined within regulation.

4.4  Secure estate outside of Wales

  Of particular concern to the monitoring group is that the majority of children and young people in Wales who lose their liberty are held in England.[578]

4.5  Anti-social behaviour orders

  ASBOs are in tension with the UNCRC with regard to their punitive nature and the fact that a custodial sentence can ensue for (civil) breaches. There can also be difficulty understanding the prohibitions and there is increased likelihood of them being breached if they are not understood. This can be acute for those with learning difficulties or mental health problems. This indicates an infringement of rights that undermine the best interest principle of the UNCRC. Additionally, the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003 has allowed for publicity of children who have been given ASBOs, breaching their right to privacy and the presumption towards media reporting continues.

  The Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group recommends the UK Government:

    — Review the juvenile justice system against the requirements of the UNCRC and European Human rights instruments.

    — Incorporate the fundamental principle that custody should be used as a measure of last resort in sentencing guidelines, policy and practice. Additionally, when denial of liberty is essential and unavoidable young people should be held in establishments that fully meet their needs and respect for their rights.

    — Commission independent research to identify what the age of criminal responsibility should be set at and how the needs of those who would fall below the new threshold could best be met.

    — End the use of pain restraint or distraction techniques across the secure estate.

    — Urgently review current legislation, policy and guidance in relation to Anti-Social Behaviour Orders as the growing body of evidence suggests that children and young people are more likely to be harmed than receive any benefits from their imposition.

5.  CHILDREN WITH DISABILITIES

  During the last three years the UK Government has allocated £430 million[579] to start to transform the services that disabled children and their families receive. This has included funding for short break and childcare provision for families with disabled children and support for disabled young people going through transition to adulthood. While this funding is welcomed it does not concentrate on the most important issue. This is to ensure that services for disabled children; young people and their families are viewed as part of the wider social inclusion agenda which in turn will ensure that disabled children have equal access to the everyday opportunities and activities that other children and their families take for granted. Additionally this funding is not being matched by funding for disabled children in the devolved administrations.

  The UK Government has listened carefully and responded to the needs of parents/carers but has not actively sought to determine what disabled children and young people want themselves. This must change.

  The Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group recommends the UK Government:

    — Commission qualitative research to determine on what disabled children and young people themselves would spend any extra funding on and not just respond to the needs of their families/carers.

    — Match funding for disabled children in the devolved administrations of the UK.

    — Resource an awareness raising campaign on the rights and additional needs of disabled children, this should highlight.

    — The inclusion of disabled people in society and the elimination of any discrimination they face.

    — Highlight equality issues for disabled children.

    — Highlight that disabled children need additional support to ensure that they are equal to other children/young people.

6.  AGE DISCRIMINATION

6.1  Protection from age discrimination in goods, facilities, and services

  The Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group is extremely concerned that under-18s are to be excluded from the protection from age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services in the Equality Bill. The conclusion to exclude children and young people seems to be the result of a limited and flawed analysis of which groups are most vulnerable to age discrimination. The current white paper acknowledges that age discrimination is an issue for many older people but does not recognise that similar age discrimination is experienced by under-18s.

  In research carried out by the Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE)[580] for the UK Government in 2007, under 18 year olds were asked across the UK, 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 UK. 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 UK. For example:

    — 16 and 17 year olds finding it difficult to access social services and mental health services, falling in the gap between children and adults' provision.[581]

    — 16 and 17 year olds receiving lower levels of certain benefits despite paying the same social security contributions.[582]

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

    — Children and young people not being taken seriously when reporting a crime or calling for emergency services.[583]

    — Children and young people being treated unfairly in public spaces eg in shops,[584] using public transport, or where mosquito devices[585] are in use.

    — Children and young people experiencing difficulty in having their voices heard in the provision of goods facilities and services.[586]

  Age discrimination faced by children and young people goes largely unnoticed and is often seen as legitimate. Signs on shop door ways stipulating "No more than two children", bus drivers failing to stop for teenagers, young people being followed around department stores and restricted from gathering in public spaces, are common occurrences for many children and young people across the UK. Hotels advertising—no children allowed—no other group in our society could be overtly discriminated against in this way

  To oppose the inclusion of children in protection against age discrimination is in itself discriminatory and contradicts the underlying values of equality and discrimination law. We respect the unique status of children and young people must be recognised and provided for, alongside measures to tackle negative age discrimination. As in the case for example of older people,[587] we would want to ensure that age-specific services are allowed to continue.

  The UK Government argues that children have dedicated services and protection and so should be treated differently from the rest of the population but so do members of the older population and other groups in society—disabled people for example. Vulnerability and dependency are no justification for exclusion from protection from discrimination; indeed they strengthen the need for such protection.

  We 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. Negative age discrimination against under-18s has no place in today's society and we fear that it will continue to be tolerated unless the UK Government takes action.

6.2  Single integrated equality duty

  Additionally the Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group is very concerned that the single integrated equality duty has not been extended to children's services and education. Positive duties should be placed on all public authorities to:

    — promote the human dignity and equal worth of every individual;

    — reduce inequalities among children;

    — raise awareness of human rights;

    — support children and young people's active participation in society; and

    — promote positive images of children and young people.

  A commitment to equality should be a unifying feature of all public services. It is now widely accepted that inequalities are formed and become entrenched in childhood—children's services and education have an established role in challenging inequalities. Children like all groups in society want professionals to respect them and genuinely listen to their views and perspectives. Children's services and education should not be excluded from a broader progressive move to embed human rights values into public services. Additionally children using children's services tend to be the most vulnerable and discriminated of all the groups, yet there is a lack of knowledge and capacity to challenge inequality among the children's workforce. An exclusion from the equality duty may disengage the very professionals who could assist children in challenging unlawful discrimination. The professional status of children's workforce (including teachers) will be undermined by being excluded from this aspect of equality law.

6.3  Equal protection

  In its Concluding Observations in 2008 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child yet again highlighted its position that the UK Government's position on corporal punishment was at odds with the UNCRC. The Committee urged them to "prohibit as a matter of priority all corporal punishment in the family including through the repeal of all legal defences". [588]The removal of the "reasonable punishment" defence in s.58 of the Children Act 2004 has been something which has received widespread support from both the National Assembly for Wales and the Welsh Assembly Government, who have voted for equal protection for children and supported the Children Are Unbeatable/'S'Dim Curo Plant Alliance in Wales. Law reform is necessary at Westminster to bring the UK into line with the UNCRC. We do not believe that it is equitable that children and young people are the only section of society that can be legally hit without sanction.

  The Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group recommends the UK Government should:

    — Extend protection from age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services to include under-18s.

    — Extend the single integrated equality duty to cover children's services and education.

    — Remove the defence of "reasonable punishment", as outlined in s.58 of the Children Act 2004, as a matter of priority.

February 2009






569   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland Back

570   The general measures of implementation relate to article 4 , which sets out that State Parties must take "all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures" needed for the implementation of the rights set out in the UNCRC. Back

571   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, paragraph 65 (a). Back

572   The Government has stated that the UK should be the "amongst the best in Europe". The lowest historically in Europe has been 5%. Back

573   In line with article 12 of the UNCRC Back

574   www.biduk.org./ Back

575   Save the children, 2008, Care and protection of asylum-seeker and trafficked children. Agenda for Action, published by Save the Children. Back

576   Ibid Back

577   Youth Justice Board Statistics www.yjb.gov.uk/en-gb/practitioners/Monitoring performance/Annual Statistics/ Back

578   Croke & Crowley (eds) Stop, look, listen: the road to realising children's rights in Wales. Save the Children 2007 p. 64 Back

579   The UK Government's "Aiming High for Disabled Children: Better Support for Families" review (2007) announced a funding package of £340 million for 2008-11. £100 million of further investment was announced by the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families Ed Balls at an End Child Poverty campaign event on 10 December 2007. The Secretary of State confirmed that this included £90 million of additional capital funding for short break services, and an increased grant of £8.4 million for the Family Fund, to allow them to make grants to disabled young people aged 16 and 17. Back

580   Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group is a supporter of the Young Equals Campaign hosted by CRAE. Back

581   Croke & Crowley (eds) Stop, Look, Listen: the road to realising children's rights in Wales. Save the Children 2007. Back

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

583   CRAE (2007) We are all equal and that's the truth. Children and young people talk about discrimination and equality. Back

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

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

586   For example children think that when their complaints are being investigated their views are not taken seriously as adults and were not always weighed equally with evidence from adults Children's Rights Director (2007) Policy by children: A children's views report. Additionally, The UK Government White paper refers to a doctor failing to investigate a health complaint by an older person what about this example's equal relevance to young people? Back

587   The White paper refers to age specific services for older people such as over 60s, flu vaccinations, actuarially justified age based treatment eg financial services. Back

588   UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2008) Concluding Observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland para. 42 (a). Back


 
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