UK Border Agency faces duty to promote children’s welfare

Children’s rights campaigners have welcomed the government’s agreement to place the UK Border Agency under a duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.

The decision, announced in a joint parliamentary statement by children’s secretary Ed Balls and home secretary Jacqui Smith, follows a longstanding campaign for the immigration service to be placed on the same footing as other public agencies.

The duty, under section 11 of the Children Act 2004, applies to councils, NHS bodies, the police, probation, youth offending teams and secure settings. The historic exclusion of the immigration service has been seen as an anomaly weakening the rights of children in the asylum and immigration systems.

House of Lords amendment

In March, the House of Lords passed an amendment to the Children and Young Persons Bill to bring the Border and Immigration Agency – which the UKBA replaced in April – under the duty. Peers argued that a statutory code of practice on protecting children, which the agency is bound to have regard to, was an insufficient safeguard.

Balls and Smith have now proposed amending the Children and Young Persons Bill to remove that amendment in order to introduce the measure in a new Immigration Bill, which will be published in partial form next month. 

NSPCC director and chief executive Mary Marsh said: “It gives asylum-seeking children better protection from the moment they enter the country and the same level of protection already afforded to all other children in the UK.”

Children’s commissioner for England Al Aynsley-Green said: “This is a significant step forward to creating an immigration regime that places the best interests of all children at the heart of the decision-making process.”

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