Baroness Massey: Government must commit to the UN's recommendations on children's rights
Ahead of the UN committee on the Rights of the Child inspection next year, we must improve child mental health services, services for children seeking asylum, child homelessness, and the treatment of children in trouble with the law, writes Baroness Massey.
Last November was the 30th anniversary of the signing of possibly the most significant human rights declaration ever made.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a human rights declaration adopted by the UN on November 1989. It sets out global standards to protect and develop children’s potential. Most countries in the world have ratified this convention; exceptions are Somalia, South Sudan and the USA.
Countries which ratify the convention pledge to protect children (up to the age of 18) against sexual and economic exploitation, violence and abuse and to enable all children to benefit from education, healthcare a good standard of living including family life and the right to fair treatment if accused of offences, parental care and other rights.
Every five years, a group of 18 independent experts from the UN committee on the Rights of the Child inspects countries who have ratified the convention to see how well they are respecting and promoting children’s rights. The UK was last inspected in 2016 and will therefore be inspected again in 2021.
The committee called for improvement in a number of areas including inadequate services for child mental health, the treatment of children in trouble with the law, children seeking asylum, the high levels of homeless families with children in accommodation, the high level of pollution in our cities and the frequent changes of social workers and placements for children in care.
This is a large agenda for improvement, but the Government can show that it is serious about children by recommitting itself to the UNCRC and to improving, by 2021, the ratings received in 2016.
I ask why they refuse to commit themselves to a child rights strategy and action plan on the implementation of the UNCRC as set out in articles (4,42 and 44.6) of the convention.
Such an action plan requires the effective coordination of efforts across government. The UN committee, in its concluding remarks in 2016, called for the revision of the UK wide child rights strategy, published in 2009, and for the adoption of comprehensive child rights action plans to deliver a new strategy in England and the devolved nations.
The Government has, to date, refused to commit to such an action plan or strategy, stating that it prefers something more flexible. However, the majority of the UN committee’s concerns have not been fully addressed as described in the Children’s Rights Alliance 2018 report on the state of children’s rights.
Responsibility for children’s rights policy is with the Department for Education but issues of implementation lie with a number of Government departments, for example, immigration, policing within the Home Office; poverty and homelessness with the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Housing, Communities and Local Government; criminal justice with the Ministry of Justice; and mental health with the Department of Health.
In 2018, the role of Children and Families Minister was demoted to from a Minister of State to a Parliamentary Under Secretary. Will this post be given more status under a new Government? There is an opportunity here to show a new commitment to the rights of the child.
The responsibilities for children must be acknowledged to be of primary importance with high level recognition. Without this we do a disservice to our children and families and do not respect the fact that how we treat our children now will reflect the society we become.
Baroness Massey is a Labour Peer in the House of Lords.