90 children’s charities warn the UN that children’s rights have deteriorated in England

9 Dec 2020

In a new report released ahead of Human Rights Day (10 December), 90 children’s charities from across England warn that a number of critical children’s rights issues must be urgently addressed by the UK Government to prevent worsening impacts on the most vulnerable children.

Today’s report marks the start of the UK’s examination under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). Led by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), it sets out civil society’s top concerns for the UN to investigate and reveals that children’s rights have regressed in many areas since the UN’s last examination in 2016. It also highlights that the Government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has not prioritised children’s rights and their voices in vital policy and legislative decisions.

Although there has been some progress, the report concludes that children’s rights remain worryingly low on the political agenda in England. Scotland is soon to directly incorporate the CRC into domestic law, but the UK Government has refused to do so. It also outlines that children’s access to justice has been eroded since 2016 and, with the Human Rights Act now under threat, our domestic legal framework for protecting children’s human rights is at great risk.

The report also highlights that Black children have continued to suffer persistent discrimination across many aspects of their lives, including being disproportionately represented in school exclusions and in all parts of the criminal justice system. Despite numerous reviews, there is still no cross-government strategy for preventing and addressing systematic racism and race discrimination.

Other concerning issues highlighted in include:

  • Families in poverty are now living in deeper poverty than five years ago, despite rising employment prior to the pandemic. The economic impact of Covid-19 and Brexit is predicted to further increase child poverty, with 4.2 million children already living in poverty in the UK.
  • Inequalities in key children’s health outcomes, such as mortality and obesity, have widened since 2016 for those from poorer and BAME backgrounds. There is no strategy or targets to address this.
  • Despite increased investment, suicide is among the leading causes of death for 5 to 19-year olds. It is estimated that one in six (16%) 5 to 16-year olds in England have a mental disorder and Covid-19 has exacerbated this further.
  • The educational attainment gap has widened as Covid-19 exacerbated the issue, with children from disadvantaged and BAME backgrounds falling further behind their peers. Children from these backgrounds are also disproportionately excluded from school and denied an education.
  • Although there have been welcome developments to children’s social care legislation, funding for children’s and youth services has been decimated, whilst the numbers of children needing care or protection are rising, with the pandemic putting additional pressure on services.
  • Despite some positive measures, the safety and welfare of children in the criminal justice system is being put at risk and racial disparities are widening at every stage of the youth justice system. Since May 2019, the proportion of minority ethnic children in penal custody has been over 50% of the population.   
  • The rights of children in the immigration system have suffered as a result of the Government’s punitive Hostile Environment. There are currently 215,000 undocumented children in the UK who face great barriers to regularising their status.

Louise King, Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, part of Just for Kids law, said: “Published to mark Human Rights Day, the findings of our report make for disheartening reading: children are being failed in many aspects of their lives and their rights are not being respected. Children continue to be a low political priority, and this been exacerbated during the pandemic. The UK Government needs to take urgent action to embed children’s rights into domestic law to ensure we don’t fall further behind progress being made in Scotland and Wales and that children’s rights are at the centre of the country’s recovery from the pandemic.”

Dr Carol Homden, Chief Executive of Coram, said: "As this report highlights, the current immigration system is failing many children, including those who have grown up in the UK and have the right to stay and contribute to the country they consider home but are unable to regularise their status. With just seven months until the EU settlement scheme deadline, hundreds of thousands of EU national children, including children in care, are also at risk of falling through the gaps and becoming undocumented. The Government needs to ensure that the immigration system recognises the best interests of children, and provide a shorter, affordable and accessible route to permanent status for children and young people."

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Since the last UNCRC examination in 2016, child poverty has been rising, and as a result of Coronavirus things are likely to get worse for children and their families before they get better. Without co-ordinated national action to tackle child poverty in the UK, a generation of children will be deprived of their basic rights to a safe and secure home, an adequate education, and a healthy childhood. This report sets out some of the key areas the UK government should focus on if they are serious about protecting children’s rights in the UK. This starts with taking meaningful action to tackle child poverty.”

Pippa Goodfellow, Director of the Standing Committee for Youth Justice, said: “Despite welcome reductions in the criminalisation and imprisonment of children over the past decade, there remain fundamental infringements to the rights of children in the youth justice system, amidst growing inequalities. Children from minority ethnic backgrounds are more likely to receive harsher levels of punishment, and now make up more than half of the population of children in prison. We call on the government to take urgent action to address these issues, to enable all children to reach their full potential. 

Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, said: “All children have a right to good health and access to health services, yet clearly too many – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – are being denied the opportunity. The Coronavirus has exacerbated many challenges for children and the government’s policy response often failed to ensure their needs were met, resulting in increased numbers struggling with low well-being. It is vital that ministers put children’s rights and their well-being at the heart of the recovery, to ensure every young person can grow up with improved health outcomes.”

Notes to editors

  1. The full report and graphics from the report are available to download below.
  2. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) was adopted by the UN on 20 November 1989 and was ratified by the UK Government in 1991. It applies to all children aged 17 and under and sets out the minimum standards for their treatment. See here: https://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/crc.aspx
  3. Every state that has ratified the CRC is required to report to the Committee on the Rights of the Child on how it is fulfilling its obligations under the Convention every 4-6 years.
  4. CRAE’s report is the Civil Society submission to the List of Issues Prior to Reporting (LOIPR), the first step under the new Simplified Reporting Procedure. The UN Committee is expected to publish its LOIPR in February 2021 which will ask the UK Government for more information on 30 issues. The final examination will take place in autumn 2022. For more information see: http://www.crae.org.uk/publications-resources/briefing-on-the-new-simpl…
  5. The report is based on written and oral evidence from CRAE’s 100 members and additional analysis.

About the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE)

CRAE seeks the full implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in England. Our vision is of a society where the human rights of all children are recognised and realised. CRAE merged into the charity Just for Kids Law in 2015.

About Just for Kids Law

Just for Kids Law is a UK charity that works with and for children and young people to hold those with power to account and fight for wider reform by providing legal representation and advice, direct advocacy and support, and campaigning to ensure children and young people in the UK have their legal rights and entitlements respected and promoted and their voices heard and valued.

About Coram Children's Legal Centre (CCLC)

Coram Children’s Legal Centre (CCLC), part of the Coram group of charities, is an independent charity working in the UK and around the world to protect and promote the rights of children. The Migrant Children’s Project at CCLC provides specialist advice and legal representation to migrant and refugee children and young people on a wide variety of issues related to immigration, asylum, care and services, as well as the publication of free legal information online and in guides; research and policy work; law reform; and training.

About Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG)

Child Poverty Action Group works on behalf of the more than one in four children in the UK growing up in poverty. It doesn’t have to be like this. We use our understanding of what causes poverty and the impact it has on children’s lives to campaign for policies that will prevent and solve poverty – for good. We provide training, advice and information to make sure hard-up families get the financial support they need. We also carry out high profile legal work to establish and protect families’ rights.  

About the Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ)

The Standing Committee for Youth Justice (SCYJ) is an alliance of over 70 organisations working to improve all aspects of the youth justice system in England and Wales. SCYJ pools the expertise of its members to advocate for a child-focused youth justice system that tackles the underlying causes of offending behaviour and promotes positive long-term outcomes for children.

About The Children’s Society (TCS)

The Children's Society fights for the hope and happiness of young people when it's threatened by abuse, exploitation and neglect. We see the hope and courage in young people every day, and it inspires us to support them through their most serious life challenges.