The Case for a Children's Commissioner for England
The Ninth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on The Case for a Children's Commissioner for England is published today, Monday 12 May 2003, at 12 noon, as HL Paper 96/HC 666.
There already exist, or are on their way to being established, commissioners for the children of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. In its Sixth Report in this Session, the JCHR recommended the establishment of an independent human rights commission to promote and protect human rights. This report recommends the establishment of an independent champion of children's rights in England.
The Committee notes that the Government is concerned to be sure that a children's commissioner for England would not duplicate existing mechanisms for the protection of children and the promotion of their welfare, but would add value to these, and make a real difference to the lives of children in England.
The Committee concludes that existing arrangements for the promotion and protection of children's rights and interests are insufficiently independent from Government to ensure that the rights and interests of all children in England are fully protected and promoted at all times. That independence is the key value that a children's commissioner would add to existing mechanisms. A commissioner could encourage more and better listening to children, be a champion for children's interests at the national level of decision making, help children assert their rights in a positive and constructive way, and help create a culture of respect for the fundamental principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child where it most mattered-within the public bodies responsible for looking after children. An independent voice for children could significantly improve the consideration given to children in all areas of policy development.
The Committee expects to report on the UK's compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child shortly.
The Committee recommends that the Government's starting point for the terms of reference of the proposed commissioner should be that its main function is one of investigation and reporting on matters affecting the rights and welfare of children. These functions should be supported by appropriate powers, and in exercising them the commissioner should be required-
- to safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young persons;
- to give paramount consideration to the rights of the child or young person;
- to have regard in particular to the ascertainable wishes and feelings of the child or young person (considered in the light of his or her age and understanding);
- to have full regard to the importance of the role of parents and those with parental responsibilities in the upbringing and development of their children; and
- to take into consideration any relevant provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
A children's commissioner, the Committee believes, is not a substitute for government mechanisms, not a replacement for NGOs, advisory services and charities, and will not have power to usurp parents. A children's commissioner is not the answer to all the problems children face but it can be a channel through which the voice of children can be heard more clearly. An independent human rights institution for children is, the Committee believes, a necessary catalyst for change, not a sufficient excuse for others to neglect their responsibilities to respect and advance the rights of the child.