Joint Committee On Human Rights Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 260 - 276)

MONDAY 10 JUNE 2002

FRED TYSON BROWN, ANDY BUTLER, JAMES SWEENEY, DIANA SAVICKAJA, JOEL SEMAKULA AND GBEMI SODIMU

  260. I particularly like the idea of decision making classes. Perhaps adults could do with those as well. You said a Children's Rights Commissioner could arrange somewhere for children to go to if they were in trouble. Do you think the child ought to be able to go alone or should they always be accompanied by an adult, either a parent or carer, or somebody completely independent of them?
  (Joel Semakula) That should be the children's decision if they want to go by themselves or with an adult. If they went by themselves, they might have something which they cannot talk to adults about. It might be easier for them to talk to a complete stranger. If they did want to go with adults, maybe the adult could come in or stay outside so they can speak to the counsellor and they can give them advice so that they will come out knowing that someone has listened to them. Maybe that counsellor could also talk to the Commissioner about all the things that he has heard from kids and then the Commissioner would have the power to change something for kids.

  261. What you are saying is that the Commissioner could find out first hand what children's problems were and might be in a position to change that?
  (Joel Semakula) To change something for kids that might make it easier and a better environment for kids. This might be good for kids in care and people on the streets and people who have been put in prison. There might be someone for them to talk to and the Commissioner could work out that there is something wrong that needs changing.
  (James Sweeney) I have noticed cases of parents going to prison for their kids' truancy. If a young person has mental disorders or for whatever reason that young person cannot go to school, they are being bullied; they are scared if they go home their parents will say, "Get back to school", so the only thing left for that person is to roam the streets.

Vera Baird

  262. Andy, we have heard some individual comments from various of the other young people about what Children's Rights Commissioners might do but generally how could a Children's Rights Commissioner create a culture of respect for children and young people?
  (Andy Butler) I think a Children's Rights Commissioner would create a culture of respect for children and young people by turning round most of the public's preconceptions of how we are. By this I mean turning round ideas that we have no rights and are violent good for nothings. We are not a generation of that but a generation that is thirsty for recognition about abilities and skills we have to offer. Too often in serious decisions that will affect us heavily we are left out of the decision and then people wonder why we are not enthusiastic about it. For example, when new youth centres are opened, most of the time we are not asked whereabouts we would like it but we are asked to choose the colour of the walls or the floor. There are few people who listen to us really and treat us equally and therefore comply with Article 12 of the Convention, the Article that some people say is the most important. Some people think that whenever adults make a decision that will affect you in any way, you have the right to give your opinion and adults have to take this seriously. That is stated in the UNICEF Know Your Rights leaflet. Most of these are youth workers or people who work with young people on a day to day basis. One of the main problems I have found is that many young people have no idea that they actually do have rights. This is a major lack of implementation on the government's part. Article 42 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child states, "All adults and children should know about this Convention. You have the right to learn about your rights and adults should learn about them too." That is also in the UNICEF Know Your Rights leaflet. One other lack of guidelines is when the government was last checked by the Committee on the Rights of the Child they recommended that an independent body was set up. This has not happened. I personally think that what a Commissioner would do is publicly state all these and make sure that this never happens again. There is an awful lot of misrepresentation of young people in the media. Only bad things make it into the news; yet a lot of better things happen every day. For example, the news in recent weeks has been covered with stories of people playing truant and causing havoc. The media in December failed to pick up a brilliant event which showed how committed children and young people are. This event was a children's rights march to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the UK Government's ratification of the UN Convention coming into practice. This went with almost no media recognition, the most being a mention on Child Line News and Sky News and a Commissioner would create a culture of good things being in the news. As another example, a recent critic called Yap Durk, the chairman of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, consulted with the people. There is perceived violence in the culture of young people which would be improved by consulting with young people about their rights and how they will work. What I feel a Commissioner should do is ensure that this makes it into the news as well. One other problem I know about is that there is a stereotype of young people as thieves. This is completely not true. Most of the time, it is members of the other generation that steal. Security guards have said that the other generations get away with it because they are concentrating their attention on stopping young people from getting away with anything. A Commissioner or Commission would make a point of this and work towards getting greater recognition of how often young people are accused and found not guilty by courts or searched and found to have nothing on them. If and when we get a Children's Rights Commissioner or Commission, his or her main job will be to create the right range of public information. Along with that, depending on the schedules, the Commissioner, if invited, could go on a wide range of television programmes to promote themselves and the Commission that they are leading. The Commissioner would be well known and in a prime position to talk about everything that children and young people have done to turn the public's opinion of young people around. The Commissioner will publicise this and in doing so the Commissioner will be publicising his or her staff and the office. One big way in which young people could find out about a Commissioner and their rights is if it is put on the national curriculum. Children's Rights Commissioners exist and work successfully in 11 western European countries and also in Northern Ireland and Scotland they either have one or are on their way to getting one. Why not England which has 11.3 million under 18s? We are the future of tomorrow, the adults of tomorrow and the people who will run the country of tomorrow.

  263. You make a really persuasive case for the notion of a Children's Rights Commissioner. You exemplify too that children have a lot to say. I was quite surprised at the emphasis you put on adults thinking that children are good for nothings. Do you really think that that is why grown ups do not create children's rights because they think very badly of them, or is it just that they think you should be seen and not heard, that you are represented by your parents and that they will say everything for you?
  (Andy Butler) It is a combination of all those but also there is quite a lot of misrepresentation in the media. A lot of things happened in the last year that show how good children and young people know about things and can show what they are thinking about them but they are not seen. It is always the bad things that get into the papers. If somebody is mugged, it is a youth. When people read the papers or see the news, they think, "Oh, it's a youth that has done all these bad things", so all youths must be like that.

  264. You think a big function for the Commissioner would be to put around a lot of information indicating that children have rights and also presumably, from what you say, encouraging children to take them up and letting everybody in the public area know that children want to take their rights up.
  (Andy Butler) Yes. Also, the big problem is that most children do not know about it because Right Here, Right Now, with funding from the NSPCC, got going last July and met for the first time in the six week holidays. When we went back to school, I was telling all my friends at school that I had this brilliant weekend away, learning about children's rights and what a Children's Rights Commissioner would do and they turned round and went, "What are children's rights? We do not know about them. Do they exist?" Article 42 says they should be saying, "Yes, I know about the rights", but they do not.

  265. Job one would be to make sure that there is lots of information disseminated to children so that they can take up their rights?
  (Andy Butler) Not just children but people who work with children as well. It is not just down to the children and young people to know their rights; it is down to the people who work with them as well to know that they have the rights and to respect those rights as well.

  266. The Children's Rights Commissioner to whom many, you and your colleagues here, will look for a lot of help is bound to be an adult, is it not? How do you think he or she will be able to make sure that children's views are represented through him or her?
  (Andy Butler) It has to be an adult at the beginning. The perception could be that some children should be seen and not heard. Some people could still think that and think, "They are just going on about something." If it is an adult saying it, they would listen because it is like people of the same age. They would think they would be able to listen to them; whereas if it was some young person they would be thinking, "Why should we listen to them?"

  267. You would have to make sure that the Commissioner had a lot of input from children's support groups and representative groups so that he or she could be kept on the straight and narrow about what you wanted.
  (Andy Butler) One of the main things that the Commissioner should always do is consult with children and young people at least once a week to maintain what they think, what they feel him or her is doing and whether it is right so that it is not just the Commissioner feeding the Commission with what him or her thinks should happen.
  (James Sweeney) Right Here, Right Now will be in consultation with the Children's Rights Commissioner and the Commissioner would hear from young people. Of course it would be nearly impossible for all 11.3 million under 18s but the more the better.

  268. That would be up to us to work out with the system, would it not?
  (James Sweeney) Exactly, yes.

Mr Woodward

  269. You have been looking at the question of the Children's Rights Commissioner and lots of you have already been talking about it. Nonetheless, you have been working hard on this so how do you think a Children's Rights Commissioner would make children's lives better?
  (Gbemi Sodimu) A Children's Rights Commissioner would make children's lives better because children will be able to have their own say and for something to be actually done about it. The Commissioner will have the power to make things actually happen. He or she would be independent and nobody will be able to tell him or her that they cannot do it.

  270. When you say that the Children's Rights Commissioner can make children's lives better, how could we make children and young people feel confident about trying to use the Commissioner's office? What would make them feel confident?
  (Gbemi Sodimu) A colourful, child-friendly, relaxed environment will encourage young people to give their advice to the Commissioner and nice, friendly staff will boost the trust of children and young people. Young people will feel confident because they will actually get the chance to be taken seriously.

  271. We have to make it friendly?
  (Gbemi Sodimu) Yes.
  (Andy Butler) One of the reasons why I have really enjoyed this project is that it has not been like working with youth workers. It has been like working with friends because the people we have been working with have treated us as equals. When we got a phone call from them, at least one of the workers has had to ring back because she has forgotten to say something because we were just chatting like friends.

  272. Let us say we had a Children's Rights Commissioner. You have all talked about the importance of having one. How are we going to make sure that children know about a Children's Rights Commissioner?
  (Gbemi Sodimu) Children and young people should be taught at school about the Commissioner and children's rights because some people do not even know that they have children's rights. What is the point of having children's rights if we do not know about them? I think it should be put into the national curriculum as a subject so that children will know that somebody is on their side. Schools should be able to get in touch with the Commissioner if any of the pupils have any problems and the Commissioner can get in touch with the child and try and help in any way they can.

  273. You have all made a very strong case this afternoon for having a Children's Rights Commissioner but the other issue that sometimes gets put alongside this is the idea of having a minister for children. You have all spoken this afternoon very clearly about your voice not being heard and not being represented and yet the government makes all sorts of decisions which affect your lives. Some of you have spoken up brilliantly about the importance of a Children's Rights Commissioner being independent and not be a bit of the government. Does anybody here have any views on whether or not, as well as a Children's Rights Commissioner, we should have a minister for children and, if we should have a minister for children, how important do you think that is for the government?
  (James Sweeney) At the moment, Mr Denham is the Minister for Children and Young People. I do not think Mr Denham will have the time to consult with children with the important role he has.
  (Fred Tyson Brown) I do not think a Member of Parliament or a member of a political party will be as dedicated to the subject as a Commissioner because a Commissioner's whole working is around children's rights; whereas, if we had a minister, he would also be a Member of Parliament for his constituency and have many other duties. He would not have it as a high priority as somebody who is totally dedicated to what they were doing like a Commissioner.
  (James Sweeney) What would be the point of having a Children's Rights Commissioner and a minister when the Children's Rights Commissioner would be doing his job. It is not the job of a minister. The better way is to have the Commissioner.
  (Joel Semakula) You could have an advisory board for the Commissioner so that people could say their views to help the office. You could have a group of young people who could help the Commissioner with all the decisions and have child-friendly meetings so that you could get loads of young people who will come to these meetings and you can get more people interested in children's rights.

  274. Do you think if you had an advisory board people should just be put on it or do you think you should have some way of doing elections amongst young people to get on it?
  (Gbemi Sodimu) Children should get their chance because adults can vote. Children should get the chance for who they want to be on the advisory board so that they know the people on the advisory board will do the job for them.
  (Joel Semakula) They should also get to vote for who is the Commissioner. The Commissioner should be an adult but quite a young adult.

Chairman

  275. Most of us have people who have inspired us. Sometimes they are people who are still alive; sometimes they are people in history. I wonder whether each of you would like to say who it is in history or who is still alive today who you feel has done the most or is doing the most for children's rights.
  (Fred Tyson Brown) There are so many people. I cannot name them all. I am not really sure.
  (Andy Butler) It is not anyone in particular because I do not think there is anyone in particular. The only people who have done the most are the Commissioners or Ombudsmen around the world, anybody who works for a children's based charity and all of those people who have dedicated their professional career to trying to make the lives of children better.
  (James Sweeney) Rosina Lyah, our project leader. Unfortunately, she is leaving tomorrow so she will not be able to carry on the brilliant work she has been doing for us.
  (Fred Tyson Brown) The hundreds of children who are sitting on non-governmental organisations are the people who are really doing the most for us.
  (Gbemi Sodimu) I did not know that children had rights until I heard about the advisory board when there was a meeting held. From my point of view, the advisory board and children's organisations—if there was not these organisations, nobody would know that there were children's rights.
  (Joel Semakula) One of the biggest organisations for kids, the NSPCC, have done a lot. They are taking loads of kids every year to make sure that kids are safe and healthy and there is somewhere where kids can go to if they are unhealthy or if they think that they are being treated badly. The NSPCC will try and help them. They have done a lot for children and their rights.

  276. Can I thank you very much for appearing before us today? As you know, what has happened here today will all be written down and will be part of our report. We will send you a copy. We will tell you what we recommend when we finish our report. I know that the people who have heard you today will know that the decision we took to ask you to come along today and give us your views was entirely right and we have gained a lot from you, particularly you talking about not just your own experiences but the experiences of your friends and you are perfectly entitled to stay behind to listen to the next witness. Thank you very much.
  (James Sweeney) Can we hand out these post cards?

  Chairman: Of course.





 
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