Behind the headlines

Children’s human rights are still not being given enough attention
by the government, a report said last week. The parliamentary joint
committee on human rights accused the government of failing to
comply with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, including
failure to develop a children and young people’s strategy based on
the convention. It highlighted the government’s failure to
implement recommendations relating to the treatment of children in
the youth justice system, such as raising the age of criminal
responsibility from 10 to 12 and for custody to no longer be an
option for under-12s. The committee warned that sentences that
combined custody with community supervision, could be used on
children as young as 12 who are infrequent offenders and who would
not normally have received a custodial sentence. It also criticised
the failure to acknowledge the need for a statutory right to
special educational needs support, to impose Children Act 1989
responsibilities on the prison service and to scrap the “reasonable
chastisement” of children.

Bob Hudson, professor of partnership studies, Health
Services Management Centre, University of Birmingham

“One of the weaknesses of the children’s services green paper is
that responsibility for youth justice remains at the Home Office.
Children deemed to be “in need” now have a green paper, but
children in need who cross the line into offending are bundled into
a highly retributive and custodial world. It doesn’t make sense to
draw such a sharp distinction, and youth justice responsibilities
need to be placed within the remit of the minister for children and

Martin Green, chief executive, Counsel and Care for the

“The government has done a great deal to improve child protection
and the appointment of a minister for children and a children’s
commissioner for England will improve the position still further.
But far more emphasis should be placed on the link between rights
and responsibilities. More accountability should be placed on
parents for the actions and behaviour of their children and a
higher priority put on giving people the skills and support
necessary to develop parenting skills.”

Julia Ross, social services director, London Borough of
Barking and Dagenham

“There’s been some progress on children’s rights but not enough.
There persists a fundamental ambivalence in this country about
children and this is reflected in the government’s approach.
Attitudes on smacking, the refusal to raise the custody age and
children committing suicide in prisons are all symptoms of this.
The notion that we should take the children of ‘unco-operative’
asylum seekers into care is almost the last straw.”

Bill Badham, development officer, National Youth

“Margaret Hodge said recently that ‘I don’t have a problem with
framing our policies and laws with reference to the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child.’ Yet, the government defended its
appalling youth justice record by stating that ‘children who are in
custody are not just children’. It justified the age of
responsibility by saying that ‘early intervention diverts children
from a life of crime’. Every child does not matter to this
government and will not until the UNCRC is established as its
overarching legally binding framework.”

Felicity Collier, chief executive, Baaf Adoption and

“I am saddened that the government has continued to take this stand
and it calls into question its commitment to making the rhetoric in
the green paper a reality. If every child really mattered, then we
could not tolerate allowing 10 year olds to be locked up in
custodial establishments or deny them the right to the protection
of the Children Act 1989. Whatever offences these children have
committed, a failure to recognise their needs and rights as
children is unforgivable. This is one issue I would personally be
prepared to join a demonstration about – how many readers would
join me?”

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