Children's Rights - Human Rights Joint Committee Contents

Memorandum submitted by the Young Equals Coalition


  1.1  The Young Equals coalition welcomes this opportunity to contribute to the JCHR's inquiry into Children's Rights.

  1.2  The Young Equals coalition has collated extensive evidence demonstrating that age discrimination affects children as well as adults, much of which comes from official published sources, including statutory inspectorates and regulatory bodies.

  1.3  We fear that the forthcoming Equality Bill will fail to tackle age discrimination against children and young people. Indeed Young Equals believes that these proposals will not only be come to be a opportunity to offer children protection against less favourable treatment on grounds of age and reduce the inequalities that currently impact on them but may also further entrench negative view of children and young people in wider society.

  1.4  The Young Equals coalition urges the JCHR to review the Government's proposals for further equality legislation in the context of the UK's international obligations including as a State Party to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the recent concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the UK published in October 2008.[589]


  2.1  Young Equals is a group of charities and children and young people who are campaigning to stop children being treated less favourably on grounds of age. We are seeking legal protection for children and young people from unfair age discrimination in the provision of goods, services and facilities to be enshrined in national and European Union law and for (students in) education and (children using) children's services to be included in the integrated equality duty.

  2.2  Our submission is confined to the issue of age discrimination, highlighted by the Committee as a matter of particular interest. We warmly welcome the Committee's concern, as we believe that protection from discrimination is fundamental to human rights. There is not a single human rights treaty that has a minimum age requirement for protection from discrimination in the exercise of human rights.

  2.3  The UN Committee on the Rights of the Children recently conducted an examination of the UK's record on children's rights. In its concluding observations, published in October 2008, it drew particular attention to this issue recommending "that the State party ensure full protection against discrimination on any grounds, including by: a) taking urgent measures to address the intolerance and inappropriate characterization of children, especially adolescents, within the society, including the media…"

  2.4  Article 2(1) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights states "Each State Party to the present Covenant undertakes to respect and to ensure to all individuals within its territory and subject to its jurisdiction the rights recognised in the present Covenant, without distinction of any kind,[590] such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." This is also reflected in Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Protocol 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Children as well as adults are protected by this non-discrimination provision. In line with its international obligations the UK Government must apply this standard to its proposals for further equality legislation which are due to be introduced in the current parliamentary session (discussed below).


  3.1  Young Equals has collated extensive evidence demonstrating that age discrimination affects children as well as adults. In research carried out by CRAE and others on behalf of the UK government in 2007, under 18 year-olds were asked to state 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 online survey in the UK. Forty three per cent reported that they had been treated unfairly because of their age. Three in 10 (29%) of the under 11s felt that they had experienced age discrimination and, nearly two-thirds of older teenagers (64 per cent) reported this. Unfair treatment on the grounds of age was by far the single biggest example of discrimination.[591]

  3.2  Similarly, Save the Children UK research with 50 children and young people, aged between nine and 19 in Scotland, found that a large majority thought that they are treated unfairly because of their age, Only 6% of those consulted did not think this was so.[592]

  3.3  Furthermore 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's and adults' provision.[593],[594]

    — Children and young people not being taken seriously when reporting a crime or calling for emergency services.[595],[596]

    — Children and young people being treated unfairly in public spaces, eg in shops, using public transport, or where mosquito devices are in use.[597],[598]

    — Public places such as leisure centres and libraries and transport facilities being unfit for adults with babies and young children.[599],[600]

  3.4  Age discrimination faced by children and young people goes largely unnoticed and is often seen as legitimate. Signs on shop doorways 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. Commenting on the often-invisible nature of age discrimination, one young man noted:

    "If the Prime Minister lived my life for a week, he would find that he is constantly victimized just for being a young person. He would find that instead of walking in to a shopping centre, proud to be a world leader, he would instead be frowned upon by the world as a trouble maker and potential shop lifter. He would find that instead of being able to go where he wants, when he wants, that he is restricted by signs saying 'no more than one child at any time'. At this point he'd think to himself, if that sign said 'no more than one gay at any time' or 'no more than one old person at any time', that it would be against the law." (Male, 17, Lincolnshire)

  3.5  The Young Equals coalition would be very pleased to provide members of the Committee with more extensive evidence of age discrimination against young people, on request.


  4.1  In A Framework for a Fairer Future the Government set out its intention to legislate to protect against age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services. The proposed minimum age limit for this protection is 18 years. In our view the exclusion of children is in itself discriminatory and must be challenged. If it is not, the new legislation will potentially undermine community cohesion, sending as it does a strong signal to children that they are not part of mainstream society. One young person taking part in an online debate organised by CRAE, remarked:

    "I think young people should definitely be covered—what [is it] about them being under 18 [that] makes them any less of a person than those people over 18? We all deserve to be treated equally… You can't make a law outlawing discrimination apart from certain types!"

  4.2  The Government has consistently failed to acknowledge age discrimination as an issue that affects children. In a statement to Parliament on 26 June 2008 the Equalities Minister, Harriet Harman MP stated; "The provisions will not cover people under 18. It is right to treat children and young people differently, for example through age limits on alcohol consumption, and there is little evidence of harmful age discrimination against young people. Harmful age discrimination is basically against older people."[601] This view was confirmed in the Government's response to the consultation "A Framework for Fairness: Proposals for a Single Equality Bill for Great Britain" which maintained "We have considered the arguments which were put forward for prohibiting age discrimination against children as well as adults. However, we continue to believe that age discrimination legislation is not an appropriate way to ensure that children's needs are met."[602]

  4.3  By setting the minimum age for protection at 18 the Government is implicitly recognising that adults can face discrimination at any age, not only by virtue of being older but also younger than others, and that the law should reflect this. In light of this acceptance it is in our view an untenable position to hold that children do not merit equal protection. The Government has said that age discrimination legislation is complicated but is prepared to spend time getting it right for Britain's 55.5 million over 18s. Surely it would not be too complex for the Government to ensure that the 13 million under 18s in Britain are given the same protection.

  4.4  The unique status of children and young people must of course, be recognised and provided for, alongside measures to tackle negative age discrimination. The preamble to the UNCRC reaffirms the principle, first set down in its predecessor, the Declaration of the Rights of the Child, that "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth." This concept is well established in the UK and is clearly reflected in the wide range of child-specific services currently offered by both the public and private sectors in the UK. We see absolutely no contradiction between this and our ambition to prohibit negative age discrimination against under 18s. As will be the case for older people, genuine service requirements would allow a service provider or shop or hotel, for example, to seek to justify different treatment on the basis of demonstrable need. Exemptions should be kept to an absolute minimum.

  4.5  Several European countries have taken steps to enshrine legal protection from unfair age discrimination for children in the provision of goods, facilities and services in national and local laws. For example, both Belgium and Finland have specific measures in their national constitutions relating to discrimination on the grounds of age. Additionally children and young people have been protected from age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services in Australia since 2004 (Age Discrimination Act 2004). The Government has expressed concerns over litigation, but these are unfounded. Ensuring legal protection for children from less favourable treatment has not resulted in excessive litigation in Australia in the four years since the passing of the Age Discrimination Act. Age discrimination legislation may not yet be the norm, but it is clear that many countries are starting to recognise that children do experience discrimination on the grounds of age, and that legislation is an effective and justified means of remedying this situation.

  4.6  A Framework for a Fairer Future also signals the Government's intent to introduce an integrated equality duty (covering race, sex, disability, sexual orientation, religion or belief and age) on all public authorities. It is currently the Government's position that schools and other children's services analogous to schools (eg a children's home) should be exempt from this duty in respect of age discrimination. The reasons given for this exemption are set out in the Government's response to the consultation "A Framework for Fairness: Proposals for a Single Equality Bill for Great Britain"; "However, despite the arguments put forward in favour of including children's services in the age duty, we do not consider that this would be appropriate. Of course, we do not condone the abuse, bullying or maltreatment of children. However, the use of discrimination law, and particularly an age equality duty, does not seem an appropriate mechanism to combat poor treatment of children in children's services; and could become impractical and even counter-productive. … An age duty which in effect required public authorities to distinguish between the needs of and services delivered to nine-year-olds as distinct from 10-year-olds would be unworkable."[603]

  4.7  Young Equals believes that a commitment to equality should be a unifying feature of all public services without exception. The laudable ambition for the public sector duty is that it should be a vehicle to promote the human dignity and equal worth of every individual in our society. While respecting their entitlement to special protection by virtue of their age, children must not be excluded from this aspiration. As noted by Trevor Philips in the ECHR's response to A Framework for Fairness, legislation is not the only remedy for inequality but it does sets the tone for the broader cultural change that we aspire to and as such must be comprehensive: "Fairness is a 21st century value and it is about everyone. It is a value we want to uphold and share. … This is as much about changing the culture as changing the law. We also want to build an enduring consensus for fairness that unites all sections of society".[604]

  4.8  Children also experience the effects of negative attitudes towards them. The Good Childhood Inquiry, set up by The Children's Society to open an inclusive debate about the nature of modern childhood received evidence from children concerned about the discriminatory attitudes that some adults display towards them. Links were made between these individual attitudes, and a perception of general societal attitudes towards young people and of stereotyping, as the quote below illustrates:

    "Bullying and scared of crime which is exagerated by media who overestimate the figures and levels of crime. Also young people in general are blamed for Britain's 'rising crime' (according to media) this makes people scared and frightened of young people."

  4.9  Children's services are uniquely placed to lead the public sector's drive towards promoting more positive attitudes towards children. Children want the professionals they meet to respect them and genuinely listen to their views and perspectives. At their best, children's services and educational establishments already place great emphasis on the child's human dignity and equal worth but in too many instances children continue to experience services as paternalistic and not focused on the individual needs, rights and perspectives of children. It is our view that being excluded from this aspect of equality law will undermine the professional status of the children's workforce (including teachers). A broad Equality Duty already exists in relation to young children (under-5s) in the Childcare Act 2006.

  4.10  Northern Ireland has operated a broad equality duty on all its public authorities for 10 years and children's services are included in this, without any undue difficulty.[605] In Europe, education providers in Sweden have had a broad equality duty since 2006, which also includes taking active measures to prevent harassment and other degrading treatment towards school students.[606]

  4.11  There is currently a lack of safe and comfortable seating for infants and young children and adequate space for prams on public transport. Adults with young children often experience significant problems getting on and off public transport and feel that they are frequently treated less favourably than other adults. Many adults with young children also experience difficulties when trying to access and use public buildings such as local authority leisure centre and town halls.[607],[608] The lack of family friendly changing facilities and toilets is just one example of where families with infants are discriminated against.[609]

  4.12  The Equality Bill offers an excellent opportunity to place a positive duty on public transport providers to make reasonable adjustments to ensure the safety and comfort of very young passengers. We would also like a similar duty to be placed on public buildings to make reasonable adjustments to ensure access to families with babies and young children. We suggest that these provisions apply to under 5s only.

February 2009

589   Committee on the Rights of the Child, 49th Session, unedited concluding observations, 3 October 2008 Back

590   Emphasis added. Back

591   Willow, C., Franklin, A. and Shaw, C. (2007) Meeting the obligations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in England. Children and young people's messages to Government. DCSF. Back

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

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

594   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. Back

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

596   Inglis, G and Shepherd, S (March 2008) Independent Police Complaints Commission Confidence in the police complaints system: a second survey of the general population interim report, BMRB. Back

597   CRAE (2008) Get ready for Geneva submission to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Back

598   Mosquito devices are electronic devices being used across England to stop teenagers from congregating in public places: it works by emitting a painful high-pitched noise only heard by young people. Back

599   House of Commons Transport Committee (October 2006) Bus Services across the UK, Eleventh Report of session 2006-07. Back

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

601   Hansard: Volume No. 478 Part No. 119 26 Jun 2008 : Column 506. Back

602   The Equality Bill-Government response to the Consultation July 2008 (para 3.3). Back

603   The Equality Bill-Government response to the Consultation July 2008 (para 2.62). Back

604   EHRC (July 2008) Fairness A new contract with the public. Back

605   Section 75 of the Northern Ireland Act 1998. Back

606   The Act Prohibiting Discrimination and Other Degrading Treatment of Children and Pupils (2006:67) now enshrined in the Discrimination Act (2008:567) and the Education Act 1985:1100. Back

607   Mother and baby/Transport 2000 (206) Public Transport Survey 2006. Back

608   House of Commons Transport Committee (October 2006) Bus Services across the UK, Eleventh Report of session 2006-07. Back

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

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