Omission of asylum seekers in Children Bill slammed as discriminatory

The failure to cover asylum seeker children in measures in the
Children Bill has been criticised as “unjustifiable
discrimination” by a parliamentary committee,
writes Sally Gillen.

In a report published this week, the Joint Committee on Human
Rights has dismissed the children minister’s explanations for
excluding immigration and asylum agencies from new duties to
promote and safeguard the welfare of children.

In her evidence to the committee, Margaret Hodge said
representation on Local Safeguarding Children’s Boards and
the duty to co-operate with children’s services authorities
to improve children’s well-being only applied to agencies
responsible for strategic decision-making and the commissioning of
services at a local level.

Rejecting this, the committee calls for the situation to be
remedied “in order to ensure equal treatment for
asylum-seeking children”.

It also dismisses the government’s stipulation that
agencies must be local not national, pointing out that this
position ignores the lessons of the Toni-Ann Byfield case.

A report into the seven-year-old’s death by Birmingham
Area Child Protection Committee concluded that there was a need to
develop a closer working relationship between local social care and
health services and the Immigration Service.

The committee report adds that the minister’s claim that
extending the duty to safeguard and promote welfare to immigration
and asylum agencies could conflict with the need to maintain
effective immigration control is proof that the government sees the
welfare of asylum-seeking children as secondary.

“We are not persuaded that the government has put forward
any convincing justification for treating asylum seeking
asylum-seeking children differently from the UK national children
in the Children Bill,” it concludes.


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