The government has only made “significant” progress on just 16 out of 78 recommendations issued by the United Nations committee on the rights of the child, a report reveals this week.
The report by the Children’s Right’s Alliance for England found that children in custody and asylum-seeking children are most likely to lack protection because of a failure to make law, policy and practice compatible with the UN convention on the rights of the child.
Carolyne Willow, national co-ordinator of CRAE, a coalition of more than 300 organisations, says: “The government is rightly telling everyone who works with children to take all action necessary to prevent abuse and that ‘every child matters.’
“Yet it has authorised deliberate violence against children in custody, it has introduced legislation that could separate asylum-seeking children from their parents, and it has directed courts to name and shame children. It has still not established a public inquiry into any child death in custody and it has ignored international and national pressure to stop detaining asylum-seeking families.
“The convention on the rights of the child is clear that juvenile offenders and asylum-seeking children have the right to special protection.”
The CRAE report looks at how the UK government has responded to the second set of recommendations issued by the UN committee on the rights of the child over the past year.
It shows there is a “huge amount of catching up to do” to avoid international criticism, and finds the government has made no progress in preparing a comprehensive plan of action for implementing the convention.
Key areas of failure
Use of restraint on children in prison
Figures obtained by CRAE under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that “painful” restraint techniques – dubbed “nose, rib and thumb distractions” by the prison service – were used 768 times on children in privately run prisons over the past year. This amounted to use of the technique four times in every establishment each week, despite Home Office claims that it is rarely used.
There have been 29 child deaths in penal custody since 1990, but none of them have been subject to a public inquiry. The report highlighted the deaths last year of 16-year-old Gareth Price, who was found hanging in his segregation cell at Lancaster Farms young offender institution, and Sam Elphick, 17, who was found hanging in his cell at Hindley YOI.
CRAE raises concern that the government is still continuing to refuse a public inquiry into the death of 16-year-old Joseph Scholes at Stoke Heath YOI in 2002.
The report also calls for a national strategy on reducing child deaths and child abuse, as recommended by the UN committee on the rights of the child in 2002. Last year, 70 children were killed, most of them by someone they knew, and 27 of these cases were babies less than a year old.
Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 2002 came into force over the past year, removing all state support from failed asylum-seeking families. The CRAE report highlights that many councils believe it “runs counter” to child care duties.
The report also raises concern over evidence that shows children in detention are likely to suffer from weight loss, sleep deprivation, skin complaints and respiratory problems.
Out of 9,880 children excluded from school last year, permanent exclusions were highest for traveller children of Irish heritage and children from gypsy or Roma communities, according to the report.
CRAE also raised concern that children with special educational needs were more than seven times more likely to be excluded than children without.
Last year, 3.5 million children were living in poverty in the UK. The report said the government would be “unlikely” to meet its goal of eradicating poverty unless it adopted “pro-poor” policies as advised by the UN.
The report also raised concern over the numbers of children who could be entering custody for breaching antisocial behaviour orders and criticised the bans on wearing “hoodies” introduced in some parts of the UK
What the government needs to do
CRAE welcomed the introduction of England’s first children’s commissioner Al Aynsley-Green, but raised concern that no-one in government had responsibility for co-ordinating the implementation of the convention on the rights of the child.
It also called for more information on the convention to be made available to children and parents.
The CRAE said the government needed to ensure better co-ordination of the implementation of the convention by a “highly visible and easily identifiable” permanent body working across the UK.
The report said: “Human rights are not just for children in distant countries; they are for children here in this country too – the children we live with, that go to school at the bottom of the road, that share our neighbourhoods, and the children that cause trouble and hurt people.
“If the convention on the rights of the child had a strap line it would be ‘respect for children’. The government’s agenda should be bringing a new respect to children as people and rights holders, not giving the press and public another stick to beat them with.”
In response to the report, a spokesperson for the Department for Education and Skills said the government was about to start work on the UK’s 2007 progress report to the UN convention on the rights of the child.
The spokesperson added: “Every Child Matters, our programme of reform to improve the outcomes of all children, embodies the general principles of the UNCRC and the Children Act 2004 states that the children’s commissioner must have regard to the UNCRC in considering what constitutes the interests of children.”
Children’s rights – a snapshot
Child homicides 2003/04 – 70
Child homicides, of which baby homicides 2003/04 – 27
Child deaths in penal custody since April 2004 – 4
Child deaths in penal custody since 1990 – 29
Painful restraints in private child prisons in past year – 768
Average weekly education in prison custody, 15-17 year-olds – 8 hours
Life expectancy of girl, Kensington and Chelsea, London – 85.8 years
Life expectancy of boy, Manchester – 72.3 years
Children in poverty 2003/04 – 3.5 million
Permanent exclusions from school 2003/04 – 9,880
Primary children permanently excluded 2003/04 -1,270
Proportion of excluded children with special educational needs- 63%
Proportion of Asbos issued to children – 44%
Youngest child to get an Asbo – 10 years
Breach of Asbo – children locked up this year – 328
Asylum-seeking children detained each year – 2,000
Asylum-seeking children denied state support this year – 216
Proportion of children in care gaining average GCSEs – 6%
Government minister with UK children’s rights in portfolio – 0
UN convention on the rights of the child
Adopted by the general assembly of the United Nations on 20 November 1989. The UK government agreed to be bound by the convention in 1991.
The convention defines children as all people under 18.
The articles on rights are divided into three groups:
1. Basic principles which apply to all rights
Non-discrimination on grounds of race, sex, religion, disability, opinion or family background.
Best interests of the child always to be considered by adults or organisations when making decisions about children.
Child’s views to be heard and taken seriously.
2. Civil and political rights
A name and nationality, access to information and protection from abuse, neglect, torture or the deprivation of liberty.
3. Economic, social, cultural and protective rights
The right to life and opportunities, a decent standard of living, day to day care, health care and a healthy environment, education and protection from exploitation.
UN committee on the rights of the child: www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/crc/index.htm