112. The Government has assumed obligations
under the Convention on the Rights of the Child which include
the duty to implement its provisions to the maximum extent possible
within the UK, to publicise those provisions and to make periodic
reports on its implementation.
It is the job of Parliament to hold Government to account for
the discharge of such obligations.
113. In their Concluding Observations, the
UN Committee referred approvingly to a number of Government initiatives
which have advanced compliance with the Convention. We agree that
the Government has given serious attention to issues affecting
children's rights, but the evidence suggests that its record of
achievement is uneven and, in criminal justice and penal matters
at least, questionable.
114. On an initial reading, the impression
given by the UN Committee's observations and recommendations is
of numerous breaches of the Convention and widespread failure
to protect children's human rights within the UK.
This seems to us to misrepresent the UK's record to a significant
extent. However, the Government itself recognises that there is
still more work that needs to be done.
We have sought in this report to place the UN Committee's concerns
in the political context of competing priorities for limited resources,
but we too acknowledge that the UK has some way to go before it
could be said to be in full compliance with the CRC.
115. We conclude that the reporting process
under the Convention has the potential to provide impetus to develop
a culture of respect for children's rights within Government,
and focus attention on the impact of policy, practice and legislation
upon children. The quality of the dialogue between the Government
and the UN Committee could certainly be improved. Both sides need
to give attention to how this might be achieved, but the Government
is the partner with the resources, and therefore the prime responsibility,
to make the principles of the Convention a reality in the lives
of children in the UK.
116. We intend to play a part in holding
the Government to its commitment to use the Convention's principles
to inform all its future work with children. We have not, however,
attempted to review in this report every possible aspect of the
impact of the Convention on the policies and practice of Government
and public authorities.
Progress towards fuller compliance with the Convention cannot
be assured if it is only measured once every five years or so.
It requires more sustained attention, and the Government's achievements
in this area need to be subject to more regular independent audit.
A children's commissioner for England, whose establishment we
recommended in our Ninth Report,
could have a valuable role to play in providing this independent
scrutiny. The establishment of a children's commissioner for England,
working in collaboration with the commissioners for Northern Ireland,
Scotland and Wales, would, we believe, help to promote respect
for the rights of children throughout the UK. We reiterate the
conclusion of our earlier report hereindependent human
rights institutions are, we believe, necessary catalysts for change,
not a sufficient excuse for others to neglect their responsibilities
to respect and advance the rights of the child.
197 Articles 4, 42, 44.6 and 44.2. Back
We have condensed the UN Committee's concerns into a list of 84
concerns raised which is printed as Annex 5 to this report. Back
See Annex 4. Back
After our inquiry was announced, we received a large number of
letters from members of the public urging us to consider the implications
of the words of the preamble to the Convention: "... Bearing
in mind that, as indicated in the Declaration of the Rights of
the Child, "the child, by reason of his physical and mental
immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate
legal protection, before as well as after birth ...". The
burden of these submissions has been that the UK Government should
withdraw its Declaration, made on ratification, that "it
interprets the Convention as applicable only following a live
birth". [See for example letter from SPUC, Ev 40] They go
on to argue that complete adherence to the wording in the Preamble
would, in their view render abortion non-compliant in most circumstances.
We note these submissions, and recognise the strongly-held views
of those who have made them. However, the validity of the UK's
Declaration is not an issue we intend to explore in this report. Back
Ninth Report, Session 2002-03, The Case for a Children's Commissioner
for England, HL Paper 96/HC 666. Back