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Children’s Commissioner: Rights of young people ‘must be protected’ after Brexit

England’s Children’s Commissioner Anne Longfield is concerned that removing the EU’s rights charter from British law after Brexit could seriously impact on children’s rights.

This week sees the return to the UK parliament of the EU Withdrawal Bill, a key piece of Brexit legislation which will eventually transfer EU law into the UK statute book.

‘Astonishing’

But, writing in an official blog, Longfield refers to a recent decision by the House of Lords to overturn the plan, and now MPs now have to decide whether to back this decision. The commissioner says it would ‘astonishing’ to hear any government make the case for abolishing any children’s rights, yet adds ‘that is exactly the position’ which has been taken. She said that as the UK prepares to formally leave the EU, it is important that children’s enshrined rights about their well-being are retained and ‘not tossed away’.

As the UK’s most senior advocate of children’s rights Longfield’s views have considerable sway, and so this latest statement is unlikely to go unnoticed. She speaks up for children and young people so that policymakers and the people who have an impact on their lives take their views and interests into account when making decisions about them. She operates independent of government and has unique powers to help bring about long-term change and improvements for all children, particularly the most vulnerable.

‘Primary consideration’

“Under Article 24 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, children have the right to such protection and care as is necessary for their well-being,” she writes. “Their views must be taken into account on matters concerning them and their best interest must be a primary consideration in any action taken relating to them. These principles form the core of my work as Children’s Commissioner: that children are protected, cared for, heard and that their best interests should be the primary concern when decisions are made.

“Debates about children’s rights might seem like abstract and technical arguments between lawyers and politicians, but they matter. Children’s rights are the minimum standards we should expect for all children to live healthy, educated and safe lives. Enshrining children’s rights in law is a clear demonstration of the values we hold dear as a country and the respect we give to children in our national life.

‘Terrible signal’

“Removing the protection of rights from children covered by the fundamental charter of EU rights dilutes the protection we give children and sends a terrible signal. It also goes against the Government’s promise that Brexit should not lead to any erosion in rights.”

“Ministers claim that the removal of the Charter from domestic law will not affect people’s substantive rights, yet many legal experts have argued that the right for a child’s best interests to be a primary consideration in all actions taken by a public or private institution has no equivalent in UK law. ”

Weakened

The commissioner pointed to an argument from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Parliament’s joint committee on human rights, that human rights – not least those of children – will be weakened by losing the Charter. “I share their concerns – I believe there is a risk that losing these important children’s rights could have a detrimental effect on some children’s lives in the future,” she adds.

“Our country’s record on children’s rights is already patchy. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), despite being the most universally accepted of all UN human rights and the UK ratifying it in 1991, is not incorporated into our domestic law. That makes it even more important that children do not lose the rights they are currently entitled to under the Charter of Fundamental Rights.

“I want the UK to be a leading advocate of children’s rights, not a leading proponent of diluting them. The Government’s recent defeat in the Lords now gives Ministers the opportunity to stop, think, and ask themselves a very simple question: do we want to be remembered as a Government that took away rights from children? I hope Ministers will conclude that they do not.”

Author: Simon Weedy

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