Children’s Commissioners: Governments are ‘failing to protect children’s rights’
A damning new report from the Children’s Commissioners for Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales highlights violations of children’s rights that raise areas ‘of grave concern’ over issues like poverty, mental health and human rights.
In their so-called ‘report card’ to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Children’s Commissioners Bruce Adamson, Koulla Yiasouma, and Rocio Cifuentes warn that while progress has been made in some areas of children’s rights since their last report in 2016, there remain ‘urgent issues’ which must be addressed across a broad range of rights.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child is the global expert body tasked with assessing states’ compliance with children’s rights. In their role as Independent Children’s Rights Institutions, Children’s Commissioners play a significant role in making sure the Committee is alerted to areas of concern.
All three Commissioners have reiterated calls to governments to do more to protect the rights of children subjected to living in poverty. This includes calls for the UK social security system to once again become a safety net for children.
‘At its worst, it affects their right to life’
Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said: “One of the most serious failures of government is the number of children living in poverty. Poverty affects every aspect of a child’s life, including their rights to an adequate standard of living, the best possible mental and physical health, as well as their education. It affects their future and development – at its worst, it affects their right to life. It is a political choice to allow poverty to continue.
“UK Government holds many of the levers for social security, but the Scottish Government has the power to do more for children and concrete actions include ensuring families have access to affordable housing, wiping parental debts to local authorities for school meals and reviewing criteria for support to ensure more children are eligible. We must not accept children going hungry, living in unsuitable housing and without the clothing and basics that they need to live.”
Children and young people’s views must be central to decisions affecting them, and the Commissioners also submitted a report of children’s voices and experiences from across Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales.
Both reports highlight the effect stretched mental health services are having on children and young people.
A young person in Scotland told the Commissioner, Bruce Adamson: “There’s nowhere near enough support at all. You wait to get signed up, you wait for almost a year and a half, and then you get referred up and up, until you get someone who has no idea what you’re talking about anymore.”
“ Children tell us that alongside specialist acute mental health provision, what they value is mental health services they can access easily in the community, in places where they spend time like schools. Investment in mental health needs to be about both prevention and provision.”
The three Commissioners have outlined deep concerns about the UK Government’s proposed changes to the Human Rights Act, warning they will significantly weaken the protection of children’s rights.
Children’s rights are best protected by law and the Commissioners are clear that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child must be incorporated into relevant domestic law. In the case of Northern Ireland through a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights; the Welsh Government should urgently progress their exploration of full incorporation and provide a clear timetable for this; and the Scottish Government should urgently bring forward the amendments necessary to allow the adoption and enactment of the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill.
‘Children’s rights are best protected by law’
Bruce Adamson added: “Every day that the UNCRC Bill is delayed is another day that children’s rights are not properly protected. Children have been waiting decades, and the delays raise real questions about the Scottish Government’s commitment to children’s rights.”
“Scotland has still not fully addressed many of the issues raised when we last reported six years ago, and for many children life in that time has got much worse. Alongside the failures on poverty and mental health, we still imprison children, and our age of criminal responsibility is just 12; two years below the international minimal standard. What does this say about the how we value children? The Scottish Government needs to take urgent action to protect, respect and fulfil children’s rights.”
Click here for the report.