Committee says action must be taken on UK children

20 November 2009

On the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Parliament’s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights says the UK needs a concerted plan to address the UK’s poor ranking for child well being among industrialised nations

In a report published today, the Committee acknowledges the positive developments since the UNCRC which came into force in the UK in 1991. But many areas of concern remain. Twenty per cent of children live in poverty in Great Britain, rising to 38 per cent in Northern Ireland.

The Committee will also shortly report on the Child Poverty Bill.

As well as the low rankings in child well-being in industrialised nations, the UK is unique in the EU in recruiting under-18 year olds into the armed forces. Twenty-eight per cent of all recruits to the UK armed forces in 2007–8 were aged under 18.

The Committee heard concerns of the risks this poses to the physical and mental well-being of adolescents and also questions whether children should be required to make such a binding contract.

The Committee also says the Government must take positive, measurable action to address the serious problem of the unfounded but widespread negative stereotyping of children and young people.

Innovative and proactive solutions are required to address this problem, which the Committee says can do real harm to the status and aspirations of children living in the UK.

The Committee says the Government should review and explain why such a disproportionate number of vulnerable children are present in the criminal justice system.

The Committee reiterates its concern that painful restraint techniques are still being used against young people in detention, despite this being directly against Convention rights, and especially disproportionately against vulnerable girls.

The Committee is not persuaded by the Government’s argument that children’s rights are currently adequately protected by UK law or that incorporation into UK law of the UNCRC is unnecessary. The UK should develop a plan to implement the recommendations of the UN Committee on the UNCRC, with annual reports on progress.

Chair of the Committee, Andrew Dismore MP, said

"It is a damning indictment for a wealthy nation that the UK is still ranked lower than almost all other industrialised countries for the well-being of children and young people.

"A major problem is the damaging and unfounded negative stereotyping of children and young people, and evidence we heard about the treatment of young people on the margins of our society is particularly troubling.

"We should not aim to criminalise children; and those children who become involved in prostitution should be seen as victims, not criminals. Tackling the level of well-being and negative perception of children in society needs positive and practical action – and children themselves should be ‘seen and heard’ in that process."

Image: iStockphoto

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