24 Apr 2009

Children's charities today accuse the Government of failing to protect children from discrimination.

The Equality Bill, a landmark piece of legislation, due to be published on Monday, will make it illegal to treat people unfairly in the provision of goods, facilities and services (1) on the basis of age – unless they are under 18.

Ministers say the new legislation is designed to give everyone a fair chance in life. But they insist that there is ‘’little evidence’’ of harmful discrimination against young people and so they will be excluded from the new law. (2)

The Young Equals coalition, whose members include the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, The Children’s Society and Save the Children, has today published Making the Case, which strongly refutes this claim and questions why the Government is really failing to extend legal protection from age discrimination to under-18s. This dossier of evidence brings together a wide range of examples of discrimination against children and young people, including:

  • Children being unfairly refused entry to public services such as libraries, leisure centres, sports facilities, museums and art galleries
  • Babies and their parents facing difficulties using public transport, including being refused access to buses due to inadequate space for and intolerance of prams
  • Ambulance services failing to take children’s calls seriously
  • The installation of high-frequency ‘’mosquito’’ devices to deter teenagers by giving out a high-pitched noise, which can also be heard by babies and young children who may be unable to alert carers to their distress

If children and young people are not protected by the Equality Bill, this discriminatory treatment based on age will be allowed to continue.

Young Equals is calling on the Government to give children legal protection from age discrimination in the Equality Bill. Such a move would prevent unfair treatment based on age but would still allow for justifiable age limits on products and services inappropriate for children, including alcohol and cigarettes.

Other recommendations include placing a requirement on public transport providers and public buildings to make reasonable adjustments for babies and young children with their parents and carers.

Mike Lindsay, national coordinator of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, which coordinates the Young Equals campaign, said:
“Ministers say that there is no evidence of harmful age discrimination against children – this document shows that this is simply not the case. The Government has said that it needs to do more to support parents and families. Excluding children from age discrimination protection seriously miscalculates the impact age discrimination has, not only on children, but also on parents and the other important adults in their lives.’ (3).”

Bob Reitemeier, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, comments:
“Every member of our society needs to be protected from discrimination - and that includes our children. Ministers are making a huge mistake by exempting under 18s from the Equality Bill, and are sending out a stark message to children that the Government does not think they should be given the same rights and respect as adults”.

Notes to Editors:

Media enquiries:
For more information or to arrange interviews please contact:
The Children’s Society’s Media Team, Tel: 020 7841 4422 Email: rdb@childsoc.org.uk, mobile: 07810 796 508.

  • Young Equals is a group of charities and children who are campaigning to stop age discrimination. The campaign group is coordinated by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England. Members of the steering group include the British Youth Council, The Children’s Society, Families Need Fathers, National Children’s Bureau, NSPCC, National Youth Agency, Save the Children UK, and Youth Access. 11 MILLION, (the Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England), and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have observer status on the coalition.
  • For a copy of Making the Case email equality@crae.org.uk, or go to http://www.crae.org.uk/protecting/age-discrimination.html

(1) In its A Framework for a Fairer Future white paper the Government set out its intention to legislate to protect against age discrimination in the provision of goods, facilities and services. The proposed minimum age limit for this protection is 18 years.

(2) Harriet Harman, Leader of the House of Commons, has ruled that children and young people will be excluded from the protection. She told MPs: ‘‘the provisions will not cover people under 18. It is right to treat children and young people differently…and there is little evidence of harmful age discrimination against young people.’’ Ed Balls, Secretary of State for Children, dismissed the idea that including children in the Bill would help to tackle inequalities during an interview with two young people (Society Guardian 15 April)

(3) In 2008, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child last year also said Britain was failing to meet standards on improving children’s rights and called for an end to the ‘’discrimination and social stigmatisation continues to be experienced by certain groups of children’’ in the UK. At the time the Government said it ‘’broadly welcomed’’ the report’s findings and promised to consider its recommendations, yet the Government has ignored the UN’s call to use this Bill to address negative age discrimination against children.