Keeping Parliament Informed : Children’s Rights

The All Party Parliamentary Group for Children held one meeting in June:

  • Tuesday 5 June: UK Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child: With speakers Beverly Hughes MP (Minister of State for Children, and Carolyne Willow (National Co-ordinator, Children’s Rights Alliance for England)

This meeting was an opportunity to discuss the UK Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child aims to ‘protect children’s rights by setting standards in health care; education; and legal, civil and social services’. The UK ratified the convention in 1991, and the UK’s third periodic report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on our progress is due this year. The Government is in the process of drafting the report, and this meeting was an opportunity to hear from Beverly Hughes MP, the Children’s Minister, and Carolyne Willow from CRAE, about the UK’s progress on children’s rights ahead of the report

Carolyne Willow, (Children’s Rights Alliance for England), said that in the ten years since we adopted the Convention, there have been five different Children’s Ministers, so it would be reasonable to expect some significant progress.  The treaty expects the Government to acknowledge that children and young people have rights. The draft of the UK’s report states that the Minister for Children is responsible for the implementation of the Convention. But on enquiring, CRAE have been told that in fact the Minister’s responsibility only covers policy areas within the DfES – so there still isn’t a Minister who has overall responsibility for the whole of the Convention.

She said that in its response, the Government says that Every Child Matters is now its strategic framework for implementing the Convention. She asked why, in that case, does Every Child Matters not lay this out, challenge the way we think about children, and give legal protection as drawn up in the Convention. Every Child Matters has not brought solutions for the most severe rights issues which children face: corporal punishment, asylum-seeking children, and children in custody. She feels that the UK still does not have a real strategy on children’s rights.

The importance of the original document was highlighted by UNICEF’s Executive Director, who described it as the “Children’s Magna Carta”. There is still another year before the UK comes before the Committee, so there is still time for more action. The NGO response to the UN has highlighted 40 breaches. The top two priorities they have identified which need to be addressed are the removal of the two reservations which the UK has on the treaty. The next ten are:

  • The immigration reservation needs to be removed.
  • Asylum-seeking children should not be placed in detention centres.
  • The protections for children in the legal system need to be reinstated, and specifically in relation to Anti-Social Behaviour Orders
  • Courts and authorities need to have due consideration to children and young people’s needs.
  • Children should have a legal right to be heard, in all settings.
  • ‘Legal’ violence to children should be ended, including smacking.
  • Painful restraint being used on children in custody must be ended.
  • There needs to be a national strategy for ending violence against children.
  • There needs to be the necessary finance for tackling child poverty.
  • There should be a review of how the state deals with children and young people in trouble; custody should be the last resort, and children in custody should have the same protections as children in care.

To finish, Carolyne said that children and young people should have a critical role in monitoring how their treaty is implemented, but overall, the Convention is a contract between the state and the United Nations, and the Government needs to do their best to uphold it and so do their best for children and young people.

 Beverly Hughes (Minister of State for Children) began by saying that they are currently in the process of producing the report, the consultation on the draft report being part of that process. She said that she felt that it was very important for them to be having a wide and open dialogue on the issues to contribute to the drafting of the report. Youth justice and asylum issues have been raised and she will be listening seriously to all the points about them.

She said that the aim of everyone in the sector is ultimately about children’s wellbeing – making sure every child has a good experience of childhood and a sound foundation for adulthood so that they can make a contribution and have a satisfying adult life. The main aims of Every Child Matters are therefore now central to the Government’s own aims.

But she feels that the issue is not just about rights and legislation. They are just part of the big picture and the setting of parameters, not the whole of the picture. For her, the really important things are making sure children have:

  • a loving and secure home life,
  • good relationships,
  • a good school, enjoying their education, and
  • exciting opportunities.

These are what add up to the real rights of all children. In the context of these, her priorities are equality for all children, and addressing child poverty.

She doesn’t see the rights of children as something separate or in opposition to the role of parents and carers. Most parents have their children’s best interests at heart and are the biggest influence over their children’s lives. Supporting parents and families is therefore one of the activities that have the biggest impact on children. We need to get the best professionals working together to support families and so address inequalities. We need to keep the focus on overall wellbeing, which is all part and parcel of children’s rights. Although some may disagree about the detail, we all share the same main concerns.

Forthcoming meetings of the APPGC are:

  • 4-5pmMonday 2 July

Joint Meeting with APPG for Disability: Independent Living

  • 5-6.30pm. Monday 16 July

AGM and Update from Children’s Commissioner

Speaker: Prof Sir Al Ainsley-Green, Children’s Commissioner for England.
Please contact Sally Cole, Clerk to the APPGC on 020 7843 1907 or by email to [email protected]:

  • To be added to the email mailing list to receive minutes and invitations to meetings,
  • For copies of minutes from any of the meetings,
  • For any further information about the Group.

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