Joint Committee On Human Rights Tenth Report


ANNEX

OPTIONAL PROTOCOLS AND RESERVATIONS TO THE CRC

OPTIONAL PROTOCOLS

Young people in the armed services

The UK is committed to implementing the Optional Protocol to the CRC on the involvement of children in armed conflict. The UK signed the Optional Protocol in September 2000, and takes great care in the deployment of under l8s so as to prevent their direct involvement in hostilities. However, before we ratify we must be satisfied that we have in place the soon to be finalised detailed procedures and administrative guidelines for the Armed Forces which will give concrete form to the commitment, as clarified by the declaration made on signing, to prevent the direct involvement of under l8s in hostilities.

The sale of children. child prostitution and pornography

The UK Government strongly supports the aim of the Optional Protocol to strengthen the protection offered by Article 34 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We signed the Optional Protocol in September 2000 and aim to ratify soon. There is no question about the UK commitment to the spirit of the Protocol, but it has emerged that there are a number of complicated issues that need to be resolved before ratification, and work on this is underway. These issues include the criminal law on sex offences in the United Kingdom, since prostitution is not currently an illegal activity in the UK, nor is buying sex from a prostitute who has attained the age of sexual consent. The law is therefore in conflict with language in the Protocol, which requires the criminalisation of buying sex from a child (anyone under the age of 18).

RESERVATIONS

On ratification of the Convention, the United Kingdom entered a number of reservations. These have now been lifted, with two exceptions.

Immigration and citizenship

The Government has carefully reviewed the reservation in respect of Article 22 of the Convention, which deals with immigration and nationality, in the light of recent requests that it should be withdrawn. It has concluded that it should be retained. The Government believes the reservation remains necessary in order to maintain an effective immigration control. The UK Government supports the CRC in principle and does not take the view that the Reservation prevents children's best interests from being taken into account in practice. Refugee and asylum-seeking children are still entitled to the protections of the Refugee Convention, and all children in the UK are covered by the European Convention on Human Rights.

Children who fall within the Reservation are also provided with basic education and healthcare, and-will often-qualify for maintenance and accommodation from the state. In some cases (such as those of unaccompanied children) local authorities will assume responsibility for the child's welfare, and social services may also be provided. The level of support for children here as part of an asylum seeking family is identical to that provided for children in families on income support. The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 came into force on 1st October 2001. It imposes new duties on local authorities, in place of their present powers, to support children leaving care (including asylum seekers) until they are at least 18 and to assist them until they are at least 21.

It is clear from the notes of the CRC drafting group that the Convention was not intended to confer any new rights in relation to immigration. The Committee will wish to note, however, that the Government has proposed new measures to address some specific and practical issues relating to children and to ensure that the immigration and nationality service is more child centred. A White Paper published in February 2002 proposes:

I. The phasing out of the voucher system, to be replaced with cash payments

II. That immigration staff will be able to interview children about their asylum claims in a wider set of circumstances than at present. This will give officials a greater understanding of children's background and circumstances and help them better determine appropriate levels of care

III. More support for local authorities, by improving information exchange, communications, partnership working and models of best practice in the care of unaccompanied minors.

Children in detention

The Government is not yet in a position to withdraw the reservation about the position of children in adult offender institutions; however progress has been made to improve the custodial arrangements for young people, and to provide for their separation from older prisoners wherever possible.

In England and Wales, in the overwhelming majority (more than 95%) of cases, juveniles are separated from older offenders.

The issue is more difficult for young women. Because numbers are low - they account for less than 5% of the juvenile population in custody—there are practical problems providing separate accommodation within reasonable distance from home that can also offer access to appropriate educational and other facilities. Maintenance of family ties has been shown to be a key factor in preventing reoffending on release. In practice, this means some juveniles will be held with 18 to 20 year olds.

There also remain at any one time a handful of individual young men and women who have to be near to courts and their solicitors during trials for further offences in areas without suitable juvenile accommodation. Although held in what are statutorily adult prisons they do not normally mix with adults unless they require access to specialist programmes or have a security classification that dictates where they are held (there is currently only one of the entire juvenile population who falls into this category).

For these reasons, the Government is not yet able to set a date for completely ending the use of adult prisons for juveniles. The number of places within juvenile establishments is being expanded under an investment programme that started in 2002, but it will take several years to develop each establishment. It will remain likely that some older and top security juveniles will still be unsuitable for those local establishments, such as local authority secure units, that cater for younger and more vulnerable children in custody.

In Scotland the position depends on the age of the child. Those aged under 21 and over 16 are classed as young offenders. On sentence they must, by law, be held in a Young Offenders Institution. Prior to sentence they may be held in an adult prison, but would normally be located in accommodation units separate from, and would not associate with, adult convicted prisoners. The proposed Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill makes provision for such persons to be held in a Young Offenders Institution prior to sentence as this is considered a more appropriate setting for such individuals.

Children (generally those under 16 but including 16 and 17 year olds in certain circumstances) who have been sentenced to detention are normally held in secure accommodation within a residential school, usually provided by a local authority. Where, in exceptional circumstances, a child is considered unsuitable for such accommodation they may be held in a penal establishment. Such incidences are rare. Similarly, where a child is remanded in custody they are generally held in secure accommodation unless, and in exceptional circumstances, the court has certified that the child is to be held within the penal system. Again, there are provisions in the Criminal Justice Bill which, if enacted, will allow such persons to be detained in a Young Offenders Institution.

Child Labour

As the 1999 report made clear, the UK has now removed its reservation on Article 32 of the CRC. In 2000, the UK also ratified the ILO (Minimum Age) Convention 138 and ILO Convention 182 (Abolition of the Worst Forms of Child Labour). These conventions came into force in the UK in 2001.

16 and 17 year olds are exempted from the minimum wage because the Government believes that their priority should be to concentrate on their education and to acquire the skills they need to progress. The Government does not wish to see a situation where young people are encouraged to leave education early by the prospect of earning a certain guaranteed level of wages. The Government agrees with the recommendations of the independent Low Pay Commission that people below the age of 18 should not be regarded as full-time participants in the labour market but should be concentrating on their education, and thus should be exempt from the National Minimum Wage.

June 2002



 
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