7. Memorandum from Children's Rights Alliance
In July 2002, CRAE gave oral evidence to the
Joint Committee on Human Rights. With other NGOs, we answered
questions about the implementation of the UN Convention on the
Rights of the Child (CRC) in particular policy areas. We outlined
our serious concerns about breaches in children's Convention rights
in relation to:
Persisting high levels of child poverty
The failure of the UK Government
to protect children from all forms of violence, in particular
its refusal to remove the reasonable chastisement defence.
The discriminatory treatment of young
asylum-seekers and refugees.
The treatment of children in the
juvenile justice system, in particular in relation to the growing
use of custody, the detention of younger children and the unequal
access of locked up children to education, health and child protection
In addition, we raised concerns about the general
implementation of the CRC, especially in relation to the lack
of Government commitment to date to establishing an independent
human rights institution for children in England.
There was a general view among NGOs that we
have a government that is in many respects extremely committed
to promoting children's welfare. However, it was observed that
this Government does not yet appear comfortable with the "language
of rights" or prepared to embrace its human rights obligations
to children. It is in the more intractable and difficult areas
of policycorporal punishment, juvenile justice, asylum
and immigrationthat this lack of political commitment to
children's human rights fully exposes itself. Paradoxically, in
these areas of Government policy, progress for children will only
come through an absolute commitment to children's human rights.
These issues are addressed in more detail in sections 4 to 7 below.
The Committee's review of children's human rights
in the UK is a huge development for children, especially for those
in England, Scotland and Northern Irelandfor these 13 million
citizens have no official body outside government to monitor,
promote and protect their rights. While the Committee can in no
way meet the broad functions of an independent human rights institution
(as set out in the Paris Principles adopted by the UN in 1993),
it is an essential watchdog.
The work the Joint Human Rights Committee undertakes
in relation to scrutinising Bills for compliance with the Human
Rights Act 1998 has proven to be of value to children as well
as to adults. While not all of the Committee's observations have
been accepted by the Government, they nevertheless have contributed
significantly to debatesrecently in relation to the treatment
of asylum-seekers and to the reforms proposed in the draft Mental
Health Bill (which has now been dropped). We note that the Committee
on occasion comments on the compatibility of Bills with the Convention
on the Rights of the Child. This is a huge development: 11 yeas
after ratification, we are finally seeing the emergence of independent
and systematic reviews. We hope this aspect of the Committee's
work will be incorporated into its terms of reference and given
adequate expert support.
Since we gave evidence, the Committee on the
Rights of the Child has issued a comprehensive report on the state
of children's rights across the UK. Their detailed observations
and recommendations form a clear agenda for fully implementing
the Convention across the UK. However, not all of the concluding
observations point to clear breaches of children's human rights.
We have set out below those aspects of the Committee on the Rights
of the Child's concluding observations that are clear breaches
and require urgent Government action.
General measures of implementation
Article 22 Reservationthe Committee notes
this is "against the object and purpose of the Convention".
Articles 4 and 42Lack of training and
dissemination of Convention to public and professionals.
Article 4Economic, social and cultural
rights are not implemented to "maximum extent of available
Article 2unequal enjoyment of economic,
social, cultural, civil and political rights still exist, in
particular for disabled children, children from poor families,
Irish and Roma children, asylum-seeking and refugee children and
other children from minority ethnic communities, children in the
care system, detained children, and children aged between 16
and 18 years.
Article 3the best interests of the child
is not consistently reflected in legislation and policies affecting
children throughout the UK, notably in the juvenile justice and
Article 12there has been no consistent
incorporation of the obligations of Article 12 in legislation,
including in private law procedures concerning divorce, in adoption,
in education, and in protection.
Civil rights and freedoms
Article 7children born out of wedlock,
adopted children and children born as a result of assisted fertilisation
do not have the right, as far as possible, to know the identity
of their biological parents.
Article 37the detention of children is
not being used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest
appropriate period of time; the frequent use of restraint and
control in prison and the use of physical restraint in residential
institutions and the use of solitary confirment breach rights
to protection from inhuman or degrading treatment.
Article 19the existence of the reasonable
chastisement defence; high prevelance of violence, including sexual
violence, against children within families, in schools, in institutions,
in the care system and in detention; growing levels of child neglect.
Basic health and welfare
Article 24persisting inequalities in
health and access to health services, including mental health
services linked to socio-economical status and ethnicity (for
example, high rate of infant mortality among Irish and Roma travellers);
relatively low rate of breastfeeding and persistence of female
genital mutilation despite its illegality.
Article 27the high proportion of children
living in poverty, and lack of appropriate measures, particularly
with regard to nutrition, clothing and housing.
Education, leisure and cultural activities
Article 28high rate of temporary and
permanent exclusions, discrimination in exclusions and lack of
effective remedy for children to challenge exclusions, children
deprived of their liberty in prisons and juvenile detention centres
do not have a statutory right to education.
Special measures of protection
Article 22the detention of asylum-seeking
children is not compatible with the principles and provisions
of the Convention; unaccompanied minors not granted the same rights
as other children separated from their parents.
Article 32the national minimum wage does
not apply to young workers above the minimum age of employment,
and therefore they can be at risk of economic exploitation.
Articles 37 and 40high and increasing
numbers of children in custody, at earlier ages for lesser offences,
and for longer periods of time; conditions in young offender institutions;
children still placed in custody with adults; lack of protection
for privacy rights; young people of 17 years of age are treated
as adults for the purpose of remand.
4. THREE AREAS
All human rights violations are wrong. Governments
have a responsibility to remedy them all and NGOs have a responsibility
to strongly advocate change wherever it is needed. Yet there are
some violations that are so endemic, so huge or so resistant to
change that they require particular attention. During the course
of assembling information for the Committee on the Rights of the
Child, CRAE, has been repeatedly alarmed at the serious infringements
of children's human rights in three main areas:
The reasonable chastisement defencea
violation of all children's human rights.
The administration of juvenile justicethe
unacceptable treatment of our country's most socially excluded
Young asylum-seekersthe discriminatory
treatment of children who have endured severe trauma, loss and
5. THE REASONABLE
International human rights law is clearchildren
should have full and equal protection from assault as adults.
On two separate occasions, in 1995 and 2002, the Committee on
the Rights of the Child has recommended in the most forceful terms
that the UK remove the defence of reasonable chastisement, which
arose from an 1860 case where a teacher beat to death a pupil.
Other treaty monitoring bodies have strongly urged law reform.
The most recent was in May 2002 when the Committee on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights noted, "the principle of the dignity
of the individual that provides the foundation for international
human rights law" and urged the UK to prohibit physical punishment
in families. The European Social Rights Committee has also told
the UK and other countries that prohibition of all corporal punishment
is required under article 17 of the European Social Charter. The
Government committed itself to changing the law allowing reasonable
chastisement before the European Court in the A v UK case,
as the judgment notes (para 24).
Clearly this is currently the most emotive
and controversial aspect of debates on children's human rights.
In these debates, children need powerful allies and advocates,
to counteract their own powerlessness. It is babies and very young
childrenthe smallest and weakest members of our communitythat
are most affected. They have no political strength, and they lack
the capacity to advocate for their own human rights. CRAE therefore
strongly urges the Joint Committee on Human Rights to use its
particular human rights perspective to advocate unequivocally
and persistently for removal of the reasonable chastisement defence
to give children equal protection under the law and respect for
their human dignity and physical integrity.
The Government has completely ignored the human
rights perspective. It puts up three main arguments for not complying
with its human rights obligation to protect children from all
forms of violence. First it seeks to separate smacking from what
is normally accepted as violent or abusive behaviour. Although
we have a Prime Minister who says he regrets that he has hit his
children, and a Minister for Children that says he "abhors
smacking", the official Government position seems to be that
smacking is neither harmful nor violent.
Mary Marsh, the chief executive of the NSPCC,
in giving evidence to the Joint Committee in July, observed:
"It is quite hard as an adultwhen
you think of the size of an adult in relation to the size of a
childfor an adult to lay a physical assault on a child
in a way which does not harm".
At the end of the 1990s the National Children's
Bureau and Save the Children consulted 76 five, six and seven
year-olds about smacking. The context was the Government's consultation
on physical punishment. The two organisations wanted to ensure
that the views and experiences of people most affected by smackingyoung
childrenwere included in the national debate. The findings
from these very young children were striking.
When five, six and seven year-olds were asked
what it feels like to be smacked, they responded:
"It feels like someone banged you with a
hammer" (five year-old girl)
"It hurts and it's painful insideit's
like breaking your bones" (seven year old girl)
"[Children feel] grumpy and sad and also really
upset inside" (five year-old girl)
"[It feels] like someone's punched you or kicked
you or something" (six year-old boy)
". . . you feel you don't like your parents
anymore" (seven year-old girl)
"It feels, you feel sort of as though you want
to run away because they're sort of like being mean to you and
it hurts a lot" (seven year-old girl)
"It hurts people and it doesn't feel nice and
people don't like it when they are smacked" (five year-old)
"[It makes you] grumpy and sad and also really
upset inside. And really hurt" (five year-old girl)
"Sometimes may feel that inside like their tummy
hurts" (five year-old boy)
"You're hurt and it makes you cry [and] drips
come out of your eyes" (five year-old girl)
A seven-year old girl observed, "[A smack
is] parents trying to hit you, [but] instead of calling [it] a
hit they call it a smack". Another concluded, "I was
just thinking that if they changed the law then a lot of people
will realise what they had done to their child and they would
probably . . . be happy that the law was changed. If they don't
change the law they will think `oh well, the child doesn't mind
so we can keep on doing it".
There is a wealth of research about the harmful
effects of smacking/hitting childrenin 1999 the NSPCC published
The physical punishment of children. Some input from recent
research, compiled by child psychologist Penelope Leach.
Just this week, at a Council of Europe seminar
on violence in families, the Deputy Secretary-General of the Council
of Europe, urged governments to desist with the delusion that
hitting children is not a form of violence:
I would therefore like to take this opportunity
to challenge the governments of the member states of the Council
of Europe to stop defendingor disguising as disciplinedeliberate
violence against children and to accept that children, like adults,
have the fundamental human right not to be assaulted.
The second argument the Government makes is
that the Human Rights Act 1998 gives children new and adequate
protection. However, since the incorporation of the European Convention
on Human Rights into UK law in October 2000, there have been several
cases where parents or step-parents have been acquitted of
assaulting their children, even when they have admitted causing
A father who hit his four-year old son across
the back with a belt three or more times causing bruising for
refusing to write his name was acquitted by unanimous decision
of a jury at Southwark Crown Court on 14 May 2001.
A stepfather was acquitted after admitting slapping
his 10-year old stepson twice across the cheek, causing bruising,
for stealing from his teacher. The man admitted he slapped him
out of frustration and with hindsight may have used too much force
but pleaded not guilty on the grounds of reasonable chastisement.
(Bath Chronicle, 20 October 2000; Western Daily Press,
21 October 2000).
A father was cleared of assault in a Skye court
by a Sheriff who said he considered the father's actions "wholly
justifiable". The man was charged with assault after striking
his 12 year-old daughter in the face, causing it to swell and
making it difficult for her to move and open her jaw. The father
took her to hospital where the doctor who examined her was so
worried by the father's attitude he called the police. The father
is a "Wee Free" kirk member. He told the court that
he had "measured" the blow: "I did it for her own
good. I used to play rugby. I know how to take a man's head off.
I hit her with the back of my hand. It was a small slap."(
Sunday Mail, 8 April 2001).
After two trials (the first ending in a hung
jury, the second aborted half way through) a couple, both senior
social workers, were acquitted of assault for slapping their two
foster children, an eight year old girl and nine year old boy.
The girl was slapped across the face by the foster mother and
the boy struck at least twice across his upper thighs by the foster
father; the bruises were still clearly visible a week later. The
punishment has been a "last resort" "impulsive"
response to the children's admission that they had been playing
sex games which had occasionally involved the couple's three year
old son. They were apparently copying their natural mother, a
crack addict who used to have sex in front of the children. The
judge urged the jury to use their "common sense" and
praised the system that finally aquitted them. (Birmingham
Post 28 October 2000; The Times 28 October 2000).
A judge ordered the jury to find a stepfather
not guilty on three counts of cruelty. He had admitted "smacking
and tapping" his three children aged nine, six and five to
discipline them, including using a wooden spoon and slipper. (Daily
Mail, 24 November 2001: "Judge defends the right to smack
as a stepfather goes free").
The third argument the Government raises is
that the public would not accept a ban of parents hitting children.
Public in this context of course means adults. Given our country's
wretched history in relation to children, it is likely that there
would be a national outcry following law reform. But it
is worth noting that the surveys which reassure the public that
trivial smacks would not lead to prosecution generally show high
levels of support for the law reform. The point here, though,
is that the Government in defending the most basic of human rights
would lead public opinion not follow. Evidence published by the
Swedish Government, which was the first country to ban the physical
punishment of children in 1979, shows that attitudes were transformed
by changing the law.
6. THE ADMINISTRATION
The Committee on the Rights of the Child concluded
that in many respects the treatment of children in the juvenile
justice system has worsened since 1995a view supported
Of huge concern are the very clear human rights
breaches inherent in the increasing numbers of children being
locked up, and the conditions in young offender institutions,
which is where most children end up.
In July 2002, the Government's Social Exclusion
Unit reported on the characteristics and backgrounds of children
in prison. It noted:
Children in custody: what the Social Exclusion
Nearly half have literacy and numeracy
levels below those of an average 11 year old.
Over a quarter have literacy and numeracy
levels equivalent to those of an average seven year old.
Between a quarter and a third of children
in prison were not in education before imprisonment.
Over half of children in custody have
been in care or involved with social services.
Two out of five girls and one out of
four boys in prison report suffering violence in the home.
One in three girls and one in 20 boys
in prison report sexual abuse.
About 10% of children in prison are from
minority ethnic communities (compared to 2% of the general population).
Two out of every five boys and two-thirds
of girls in prison had symptoms of anxiety, depression, fatigue
and/or concentration problems (compared to one-tenth of general
Around 85% of children in prison show
signs of a personality disorder.
One in 10 children in prison show signs
of a psychotic illness (for example, schizophrenia).
One in four females (16 to 20 year-olds)
and one in seven males in prison were dependent on opiates such
Over half the girl population in prison
and two-thirds of the boy population had alcohol problems before
According to the Howard League for Penal Reform,
the UK locks up more of its children than any other country in
Figures provided by the Youth Justice Board show that in April
2002 there were 3,034 locked up children in England and Wales,
the numbers having steadily risen over the previous two years
from 2,570 children in custody in April 1999.
In February 2002 in a Parliamentary written
answer, Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes revealed not only
the high numbers of children in custody but also the disproportionate
use of prison.
On 31 January 2002, there were 2,933 locked up children in England
and Wales. Of these, 2,580 (88%) were in prison, 243 (8%) were
in local authority secure units and 110 (4%) were in secure training
There remains no legislation to prevent children
being placed in adult prisons and the practice continues, although
within these prisons, under 18s are now separated. The "juvenile
secure estate" is unable to deal adequately with the increasing
numbers of children incarcerated and adult prison continues to
provide overflow provision. The lack of placement choice means
that girls (who proportionately represent a considerable increase
in population in recent years, despite the Government's official
decision that no girls should be held in prisons beyond March
31 2001) are particularly affected and are often locked up far
from home. In April 2002 there were 128 girls in prison. Children
serving long term detention are routinely moved from child care
secure facilities to prison upon attaining 15 due to pressure
of numbers of younger children now receiving custodial sentences.
In June 2001 the Chief Inspector of Prisons,
in his follow-up review on "Women in Prison" stated,
"I draw attention yet again to the abomination of finding
unsentenced children accommodated in dormitories with serious
Recent legislation permits children as young
as 12 to be given two year sentences, of which half must be spent
Children do not automatically have time spent in custody on remand
deducted from a custodial sentence, as do adults. Upon release
from custody, children are subject to more restrictions of liberty
as enforceable conditions of supervision in the community than
adults serving an equivalent sentence. And, unlike adults, children
cannot receive a shorter custodial sentence than two months.
Responsibility for the treatment of children
in prison has been delegated to the Youth Justice Board, a quango
set up under the 1998 Crime and Disorder Act. Under its guidance
a Prison Service Order was issued on Regimes for Prisoners Under
18 Years Old which requires a significantly higher standard of
care for children than is provided under the statutory Young Offender
Institution Rules 2000. However, it is clear that this attempt
to bring children's prisons up to a civilised standard, though
definitely improving in some establishments, is still an unachieved
goal. Prison Service Orders are not, unfortunately, judicially
enforceable by young offenders if the Order is breached.
The Prisons Inspectorate continues to find poor
conditions, high levels of violence and self-harming behaviour,
negligent health and mental health care and inadequate education
and rehabilitative provision, with children still being essentially
warehoused, abused and corrupted. The Howard League for Penal
Reform's recent research into conditions in young offender institutions
raised concerns of lack of specialist training for staff, a failure
on the prison service to give children individualised care, limited
access to daylight and open air, a failure to tackle bullying
and help children feel safe and lack of preparation for release.
In its special report on education for children in prison,
arising from visits to 13 prisons which hold 15-18 year-old boys
sentenced and on remand, the Howard League found that "boys
with special educational needs, such as emotional and behavioural
difficulties, were being placed in solitary confinement in prisons
as a response to their behaviour". The most recent official
figure on how many children reoffend within two years of leaving
a young offender institution is 84%exposing how little
child custody helps either the individual child or society generally.
The Government has never made an official response
to any of the Chief Inspector's reports on young offender institutions,
aside from press rebuttals. Children may at this moment be suffering
intolerable conditions, since the Chief Inspector does not have
the resources to visit all establishments even annuallysome
are not inspected for over four years.
In a Parliamentary written answer in April 2002,
Home Office Minister Beverley Hughes provided information on the
distance from home of children in prison.
She noted that of the 8,900 children received into prison during
3,500 were held between 50 and 100
miles from home; and
700 were held over 100 miles from
Given that children in prison are disproportionately
from poor families, this raises serious concerns about family
contacta right of children under Article 9 of the CRC and,
with qualifications, under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.
Lack of contact with families is also counterproductive to rehabilitation.
The Prisons Inspectorate has repeatedly raised this concern, noting
in one institution, for example, that: "According to our
survey, 34% of trainees were between 50 and 100 miles from home.
21% of trainees said their friends and family experienced difficulty
in getting to the establishment. Whilst 62% were being visited
once or twice a month, 14% did not get any visits at all"
Earlier this month, CRAE published a comprehensive
report on the human rights breaches in young offender institutions,
using evidence gathered from 31 Prisons Inspectorate reports between
January 1998 and October 2001.
Detailed recommendations are made for giving all children in custody
have a set of enforceable rights. Rethinking Child Imprisonment
also makes the following general recommendations:
General recommendations for improving the rights
of children in custody
Children should be entitled to the
same rights, services and safeguards that can be claimed by children
who are not locked up, save those rights that are incompatible
with loss of liberty.
Such rights should be in primary
legislation and should be consistent for all detained children,
regardless of which institution they are locked up in.
Detained children should have rights
of access to independent advocates who can inform them of their
rights and help them enforce any rights that are being breached.
Children should only be locked up
if they would otherwise be a danger to others or themselves.
The numbers of available locked places
for children should be radically reduced.
Resources currently spent on locked
places should be diverted to alternatives to custody, including
pilot projects providing non-punitive support in residential placements
away from home.
A welfare-based department of state
(health or education, not the Home Office or Prison Service) should
have direct responsibility for the welfare of all children under
18 in locked units and for directly running these units.
Local social, education and health
services should have the same legal responsibilities for meeting
the needs and rights of children in locked provision within their
area as they do for other children.
Any difference between units that
lock up children should relate solely to the differing needs of
the children; thus the current discrepancy of resourcing between
secure units, secure training centres and young offender institutions
should largely be eliminated.
In relation to the UK's low age of criminal
responsibility, we note the Minister for Children and Young People's
remark to the Joint Committee on Human Rights that "there
is no uniformity across Europe". If the Minister meant that
the age of criminal responsibility is not the same across Europe
he is correct. However, his statement could be interpreted as
meaning there is no overall trend across Europe. UNICEF compiled
a table comparing globally the age of criminal responsibility,
based on reports submitted to the Committee on the Rights of the
Child by 1995. This table shows that at that time, only two European
countriesIreland and Cyprushad a lower age of criminal
responsibility than the UK. The most common ages across Europe
were 14 and 15: Belgium had the highest at 18 years. The other
statement by the Ministerthat the UK's low age of criminal
responsibility acts as a kind of passport to family assistance
and supportis disingenuous. The UK has a well-developed
child welfare system that is more than capable of assessing and
meeting the needs of children without them having to be charged
or treated as criminals. The Committee will be aware of the recent
very critical joint report from eight Inspectorate and regulatory
bodies into how well children are being safeguarded.
Of the youth offending teams working with children in prison,
the report concludes, "the focus was almost exclusively upon
the offending behaviour of the young people, and there was little
evidence of welfare needs being considered and addressed".
This should give a red signal to a government so intent on responding
to children in troubleespecially the youngest onesthrough
the criminal justice system rather than through our child welfare
7. YOUNG ASYLUM-SEEKERSTHE
The treatment of refugee children and those
seeking refugee status by the British Government has been consistently
condemned as inhumane and discriminatory by NGOs. The Committee
on the Rights of the Child's concluding observations reflect our
broad range of serious concerns.
The Committee is concerned that detention of
these children is not compatible with the principles and provisions
of the Convention. The Committee is further concerned that the
dispersal system may impede a better integration and lead to an
escalation in racially related incidents; placement in temporary
accommodation of children seeking asylum may infringe their basic
rights such as access to health or education; processing applications
may take several years, Children's Panel of Advisers are not always
adequately funded; and that the ongoing reform of the asylum and
immigration system fails to address the particular needs and rights
of asylum seeking children.
In 2001 3,356 children claimed asylum in the
UK with their families.
In addition, 3,469 children aged 17 or under claimed asylum on
This was a 27% increase on 2000. Nearly one in five children came
At the end of 2000 there were over 5,000 unaccompanied
minors living in England, 3,500 of these lived in London.
In September 2001 the Refugee Council issued
a briefing on the plight of detained asylum seekers, stating:
"Unfortunately, it remains the case that people who have
committed no crime are detained for an indefinite period under
questionable and unaccountable procedures which are at no point
open to judicial scrutiny". It reported that the UK's detention
figures were at an all time high and the highest in Europe.
On 29 December 2001 there were 1,280 asylum
seekers detained in the UK; 340 (27%) of these were in prison.
The Government does not publish statistics on
the number of children detained, but it is estimated that at any
one time around 300 young asylum seekers are detained. Between
1994 and 2001 the Refugee Council's Children's Panel of Advisers
supported nearly 250 children who came to this country without
their families and were subsequently locked up.
Although the socially divisive voucher support
scheme has now been scrapped, discriminatory levels of support
persist. The total amount of financial support received by families
is currently worth 76% of social security benefits provided to
other destitute families on Income Support. In addition, expectant
mothers and children under five are excluded from access to milk
and vitamin tokens currently available to other poor families.
The British Medical Association and Medical Foundation for the
Care of Victims of Torture found instances of mothers watering
down milk for their babies.
In relation to the compulsory dispersal system,
unaccompanied minors who have proven their childhood status are
not subject to the dispersal scheme but once they reach 18 they
can be dispersed. This places enormous pressure on children.
There is a serious problem of social services
placing unaccompanied minors in bed and breakfast accommodation
rather than looking after them in care. In 1999 the Audit Commission
found that 41% of unaccompanied minors, including under 15-year-olds,
had been placed by social services in bed and breakfast accommodation
But it is not only unaccompanied minors that
are placed in bed and breakfast and hotel accommodation. Asylum-seeking
families are also placed in such temporary accommodation. The
Audit Commission reported in 2000 that, "The pressure on
existing stock has forced many London boroughs to house asylum
seekers in what they know to be unsuitable accommodation"
In October 2001 the British Medical Association and the Medical
Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture published a joint
dossier on the effects of government policy on asylum seekers'
health. In one case a doctor thought a baby boy might be showing
early signs of muscular dystrophy or cerebral palsy when it later
emerged that his whole family was living in one room. The double
bed they all slept in took up almost the whole room so the infant
had nowhere to crawl.
At the end of 2000 Save the Children UK and
the Refugee Council warned about inadequate funding for the Children's
Panel of Advisers, with some children never allocated to an adviser
but instead invited to attend a "drop-in service".
In 2000-01, 4,276 referrals were made to the Panel, 127 related
to children aged 12 and under. Five unaccompanied children were
aged six and under.
The Government had the opportunity through its
recent Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Bill to reform asylum
and immigration law to make it compliant with children's human
rights. Yet it introduced another measure that was roundly condemned
by NGOs, teacher unions and the clergythe segregation of
asylum-seeking children and families in accommodation centres
with education and health care provided on site.
After a stormy passage through the House of
Commons, on 9 October 2002, this aspect of the Bill was defeated
in the House of Lords by one vote. In moving his amendment to
the Bill, Lord Bishop of Portsmouth argued: "We should want
the best for every child in our country: the best care; the best
opportunities; the best services; the best education regardless
of their immigration status or of their length of stay here. In
other words, we should treat all children as children above all
else . . .We are talking about children who are not small adults
but people in their own right . . ."
In a parliamentary written answer in June 2002,
the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Young People and
Learning, Ivan Lewis MP, noted that "information on the number
of children of asylum seekers in schools is not collected centrally".
Using an estimate from the Refugee Council that about 80,000 asylum
seeking children and refugees attend schools in the UK, Ivan Lewis
reported that this represents 0.95% of school aged children.
In June 2002, when the Home Secretary introduced the Bill into
Parliament, he referred in a news interview to asylum seeking
children "swamping" local schools.
This amendment was subsequently overturned,
and the Bill received Royal Assent earlier this monthjust
over four weeks after the Government was severely criticised by
the Committee on the Rights of the Child. This is further proof
that children, especially the most vulnerable ones, need the Joint
Committee on Human Rights to be a staunch and constant advocate
and defender of their human rights.
24 Willow, C and Hyder, T (1998) It hurts you inside.
Children talking about smacking. National Children's Bureau
and Save the Children. Back
Hindberg, B (2001) Ending, corporal punishment. Swedish experience
of efforts to prevent all forms of violence against children-and
the results. Ministry of Health and Social Affairs and Ministry
for Foreign Affairs, Sweden. Back
Data from Council of Europe, SPACE 2000-number of under 18 year-olds
in penal institutions on 1 September 2002 cited in The
Howard League for Penal Reform (2002) Children in prison. Barred
rights. An independent submission to the United Nations Committee
on the Rights of the Child. Back
Taken from Parliamentary written answer from Home Office Minister
Beverley Hughes on occupancy rates of young offender institutions,
secure units and secure training centres on 31 January 2002. Back
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Parliamentary written answer from Beverley Hughes MP, 24 April
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BMA and Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture
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Audit Commission (1999) Survey of social services authorities. Back
Audit Commission briefing (July 2000) A new city. Supporting
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BMA and Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture
(October 2001) Asylum Seekers and Health. Back
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Parliamentary written answer from Ivan Lewis MP, 10 June 2002. Back