MPs consider UK record on human rights of children

The joint committee of human rights is a committee of both
houses of parliament set up to consider matters relating to human
rights in the UK.

The committee produced a
on the UN Convention of the Rights of
the Child (“CRC”) (published 24 June 2003, HL Paper
117). This considered the concluding observations of the UN
Committee on the Rights of the Child on the UK government’s
compliance with the CRC published in October 2002. The joint
committee’s findings provide a useful backdrop to recent case
law and legislation concerning the welfare of children in need. The
report covers such areas as children and the criminal justice
system, health and welfare, education, and care and protection.

The report is an especially useful document to have as it
contains the main articles of the CRC, the UN committees reports on
the UK’s compliance and the UK’s report to that
committee on the implementation of the CRC.

The CRC and domestic law

The CRC has been given fresh importance by the introduction of
the Human Rights Act 1998 and the recent case concerning the rights
of mothers in prison to keep their babies with them. In this case
Lord Woolf considered the position of the UN Convention and whether
domestic courts need to have regard to it. He concluded that
obligations under the UN convention are relevant because:

• The Human Rights Act 1998 says that courts in this
country must have regard to the decisions of the European Court of
Human Rights

• That court, when looking at the rights in the European
Convention of Human Rights (“ECHR”), does consider the
UN convention.

So where, for example, the courts in this country have to decide
whether a child’s right to respect for a home or family life
(article 8 of the ECHR), or the right not to be subjected to
inhuman or degrading treatment (article 3 of the ECHR) has been
breached, they can look at the UN convention to see if it gives any

The CRC and public spending

An analysis of how the UN Committee has engaged in this subject
with the government gives a flavour of the report.

Article 27 of the UNCRC enjoins state parties, in implementing
“the right of every child to a standard of living adequate
for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social
development” to provide material assistance and support
programmes, particularly with regard to nutrition, clothing and
housing” in cases of need.

Various other articles state parties are enjoined to act against
other forms of deprivation – to provide health, education,
information, protection from unacceptable and hazardous work and
opportunities for recreation: see articles 6, 13, 17, 24, 28, 31
and 32.

The UN committee recommended that public spending analysis
should identify separately all spending on children. The joint
committee on human rights recommended that this should be done to
allow tracking of trends in expenditure on children, which would
allow an assessment of the impact of the CRC as a whole.

In relation to the various acts of parliament which combat child
poverty (such as social security legislation, housing law, the
Children Act 1989, the National Assistance Act 1948 and the Human
Rights Act 1998) the joint committee had the following to say:

The significance of the UN committee’s comments on child
poverty can be fully understood only in the light of the way in
which the law is implemented, including how relevant financial and
administrative policies and practices affect the practical benefit
the law can confer on children who seek its protection”.

The UN committee recommended that the UK undertake “all
the necessary measures to the maximum extent of available resources
to accelerate the elimination of child poverty”. The UN
committee was concerned that insufficient steps were being taken to
sure this was fulfilled. The government’s response accepted
“that the levels of child poverty in the UK are
unacceptable”, and that it intended to “reverse the
legacy we found”. 

In relation to disabled children the government

From 2001-2 – 2003-4 an additional £60 million has
been earmarked for services for disabled children and their
families to target; increased provision of family support services,
including short-term breaks; better integration of disabled
children into mainstream leisure and out of school services; and
better information for families and increased availability of key
workers and other measures to improve co-ordination.

Stephen Cragg

Doughty Street Chambers

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