Last week on Friday 16 December 2011 we celebrated the twentieth anniversary of the UK government’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The Convention is the most ratified human rights treaty in the world.

Positive response

It was also the day on which the Department for Education published the results of its consultation on legislative proposals for establishing a new office of the Children’s Commissioner in order for this role to have greater impact in future. The government is committed to legislating for this role to become more explicitly focused on the promotion and protection of children’s rights in line with the UNCRC. The government’s positive response is very much welcomed by The Children’s Society and we congratulate the government on taking this crucial step to protecting children’s rights.

In the government’s responses, it was noted that “the most frequent suggestion was that there should be a duty on government to have regard to the UNCRC when developing new policy and legislation” and following this, the government has re-iterated its “firm commitment to give due consideration to the UNCRC when making new policy and legislation”.

In addition, the new role of the Children’s Commissioner for England will have a new power to carry out child impact assessments on new government policy and legislation.

This is an important commitment about which government departments and agencies will have to think seriously.

Children possess human rights just as any other human being does

Children’s rights and interests are often forgotten within decision-making processes and the very rationale for the UNCRC is that children require special protection. Children possess human rights just as any other human being does, and in addition they also need special protections. This is particularly crucial for those children who do not have parents or guardians protecting their interests, or where their parents are unable to do so.

As the preamble to the Convention states, “the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection”.

No way of getting legal advice for thousands of young people

One piece of legislation currently before parliament in urgent need of a children’s rights impact assessment is the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill. This Bill,  which is now at the committee stage in the House of Lords, seeks to take out whole areas of law from the provision of legal aid without regard for the fact that children are fundamentally different from adults and require a different approach that takes into account their evolving developmental capacity and their rights.

This means that thousands of vulnerable children, young people and families will have no way of getting legal advice or representation to help resolve their problems. As legal aid is already only available to those who cannot afford it, this will mean that the most vulnerable in our society will no longer have any means to seek legal remedies. This breaches children’s right to effective redress.

Each year around 6,000 children may have to attend court unrepresented and go without legal advice. Nearly 70,000 young people between 18 and 24 years old, including victims of trafficking, those who have no family, care leavers and disabled young people, will lose out. According to a recent report by JustRights and Sound Off For Justice 140,000 children will be affected because their parents will be unable to pay for legal advice.

Impact assessment has not been done

Despite the government’s commitment to children’s rights, an impact assessment in accordance with the UNCRC to take into account how this will impact on children and young people has not been done. But there is still time.

By Ilona Pinter, Policy Advisor - Young Refugees and Migrants

 

Related information

Download our submission to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill Committee on changes to legal aid August 2011 (PDF 204KB)

Watch Know Your Rights, a film is created by young people from our participation programme in West Sussex Left or Rights Youth Initiative project, funded by the European Commission's Youth in Action programme (administered by the British Council)

By Ilona Pinter - Policy Adviser
Ilona Pinter
- Policy team

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