Children’s rights have ‘regressed in many areas’ of the UK

School youth demonstrating against the downgrading of their exam results

NINETY children’s charities have warned the United Nations that children’s rights have deteriorated in England and ‘regressed in many areas’ since 2016.

On Wednesday 9th December, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) launched its Civil Society report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child with the endorsement of 90 children’s charities from across England.
In a new report released ahead of UN Human Rights Day today (Thursday 10th December), 90 children’s charities from across England warned that a number of critical children’s rights issues must be urgently addressed by the UK government to prevent worsening impacts on the most vulnerable children.
The report marks the start of the UK’s examination under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and it sets out the top concerns for the UN to investigate and reveals that children’s rights have regressed in many areas since the UN’s last examination in 2016.
It also highlights that the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has not prioritised children’s rights and their voices in vital policy and legislative decisions.
The report concludes that children’s rights remain worryingly low on the political agenda in England.
Scotland is soon to directly incorporate the CRC into domestic law, but the UK government has refused to do so.
It also outlines that children’s access to justice has been eroded since 2016 and, with the Human Rights Act now under threat, the domestic legal framework for protecting children’s human rights is at great risk.
The report also highlights that Black children have continued to suffer persistent discrimination across many aspects of their lives, including being disproportionately represented in school exclusions and in all parts of the criminal justice system.
Despite numerous reviews, there is still no cross-government strategy for preventing and addressing systematic racism and race discrimination.
Other concerning issues highlighted include:

  • Families in poverty are now living in deeper poverty than five years ago, despite rising employment prior to the pandemic. The economic impact of Covid-19 and Brexit is predicted to further increase child poverty, with 4.2 million children already living in poverty in the UK.
  • Inequalities in key children’s health outcomes, such as mortality and obesity, have widened since 2016 for those from poorer and BAME backgrounds. There is no strategy or targets to address this.
  • Despite increased investment, suicide is among the leading causes of death for 5 to 19-year olds. It is estimated that one in six (16%) 5 to 16-year olds in England has a mental disorder and Covid-19 has exacerbated this further.
  • The educational attainment gap has widened as Covid-19 exacerbated the issue, with children from disadvantaged and BAME backgrounds falling further behind their peers.

Children from these backgrounds are also disproportionately excluded from school and denied an education.

  • Funding for children’s and youth services has been decimated, whilst the numbers of children needing care or protection are rising, with the pandemic putting additional pressure on services.
  • The safety and welfare of children in the criminal justice system is being put at risk and racial disparities are widening at every stage of the youth justice system. Since May 2019, the proportion of minority ethnic children in penal custody has been over 50% of the population.
  • The rights of children in the immigration system have suffered as a result of the government’s punitive Hostile Environment. There are currently 215,000 undocumented children in the UK who face great barriers to regularising their status.

Louise King, Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, part of Just for Kids law, said: ‘Published to mark Human Rights Day, the findings of our report make for disheartening reading: children are being failed in many aspects of their lives and their rights are not being respected.
‘Children continue to be a low political priority, and this been exacerbated during the pandemic.
‘The UK government needs to take urgent action to embed children’s rights into domestic law to ensure we don’t fall further behind progress being made in Scotland and Wales and that children’s rights are at the centre of the country’s recovery from the pandemic.’
Dr Carol Homden, Chief Executive of Coram, said: ‘As this report highlights, the current immigration system is failing many children, including those who have grown up in the UK and have the right to stay and contribute to the country they consider home but are unable to regularise their status.
‘With just seven months until the EU settlement scheme deadline, hundreds of thousands of EU national children, including children in care, are also at risk of falling through the gaps and becoming undocumented.
‘The government needs to ensure that the immigration system recognises the best interests of children, and provide a shorter, affordable and accessible route to permanent status for children and young people.’
Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: ‘Since the last UNCRC examination in 2016, child poverty has been rising, and as a result of Coronavirus things are likely to get worse for children and their families before they get better.
‘Without co-ordinated national action to tackle child poverty in the UK, a generation of children will be deprived of their basic rights to a safe and secure home, an adequate education, and a healthy childhood.
‘This report sets out some of the key areas the UK government should focus on if they are serious about protecting children’s rights in the UK. This starts with taking meaningful action to tackle child poverty.’
Pippa Goodfellow, Director of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, said: ‘Despite welcome reductions in the criminalisation and imprisonment of children over the past decade, there remain fundamental infringements to the rights of children in the youth justice system, amidst growing inequalities.
‘Children from minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to receive harsher levels of punishment, and now make up more than half of the population of children in prison.
‘We call on the government to take urgent action to address these issues, to enable all children to reach their full potential.’
Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: ‘All children have a right to good health and access to health services, yet clearly too many – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – are being denied the opportunity.
‘The Coronavirus has exacerbated many challenges for children and the government’s policy response often failed to ensure their needs were met, resulting in increased numbers struggling with low well-being. It is vital that ministers put children’s rights and their well-being at the heart of the recovery, to ensure every young person can grow up with improved health outcomes.’
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the UN on 20 November 1989 and was ratified by the UK government in 1991. It applies to all children aged 17 and under and sets out the minimum standards for their treatment. See here:
Every state that has ratified the CRC is required to report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on how it is fulfilling its obligations under the Convention every 4-6 years.
• Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC), part of the Coram group of charities, is an independent charity working in the UK and around the world to protect and promote the rights of children.
The Migrant Children’s Project at CCLC provides specialist advice and legal representation to migrant and refugee children and young people on a wide variety of issues related to immigration, asylum, care and services, as well as the publication of free legal information online and in guides; research and policy work; law reform; and training.