Joint Committee On Human Rights Ninth Report


1. Introduction

1. In its response to the UK's 1995 initial report under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child ("the CRC"), and again in its most recent Concluding Observations on the Government's second periodic report under the Convention, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed its concern—

… that the State party has not yet established an independent human rights institution for children in England.[1]

There are now independent commissioners for children and young people either established, or on the way to being established, in Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland. Independent human rights institutions for children also exist, in a variety of guises, in many other countries.[2] In our recent report on The Case for a Human Rights Commission,[3] we set out our arguments for the establishment of an independent body to promote and protect human rights. Most of the arguments of principle we advanced in that report apply, often with increased force, to the case for an independent champion of children's rights—whether located within or alongside the human rights commission we have proposed.

2. Although the Government has not yet decided whether the children of England should have a commissioner, it is convinced of the merits of having one for the children of Northern Ireland. A Minister from the Northern Ireland Office recently told Parliament—

[The Commissioner for Children and Young People (Northern Ireland) Order] represents a watershed in society's attitude to children and young people, marking the point at which we move beyond the traditional, narrow and somewhat paternalistic focus on the welfare of the child to a broader, more rounded appreciation of the importance of children's rights and best interests. The order will place Northern Ireland at the leading edge of international best practice in safeguarding and promoting the rights and interests of children and young people.[4]

Two months earlier, the then Minister for Children and Young People had told us in oral evidence, in connection with our inquiry into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, that—

The first thing I need to stress is that we have not resolved the issue of whether or not there should be a children's commissioner [in England] and what sort it should be … this is not, as some people might have suggested, an issue that the Government is not thinking about. It is not a resolved issue and we have not taken decisions on it.[5]

3. In adopting this agnostic stance on the question of a children's commissioner for England, the Government was in a minority amongst those from whom we have heard. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called for the establishment of an independent human rights institution for children in the UK since 1995. In its Concluding Observations on the Government's initial report under the CRC, it expressed its concern as to—

... whether sufficient consideration has been given to the establishment of mechanisms, including of an independent nature, to co­ordinate and monitor the implementation of the rights of the child.[6]

and suggested that the UK—

... establish a permanent mechanism for the monitoring of the [Children] Act and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.[7]

4. The reports of other select committees and of public inquiries have supported the idea of a children's commissioner as a result of what they have seen and heard.[8] It has been propounded in the manifestoes of, or policy statements by, major political parties and has been the subject of three fairly recent Private Members' Bills. The Children's Rights Alliance of England is an umbrella body of over 180 organisations (including charities, public authorities and professional associations), all of which support the establishment of an independent children's commissioner for England. The President of Barnardo's,[9] recently said—

Unless and until the UK government does recognise the "whole" concept of the human rights of a child that lies behind the CRC and acknowledges that by creating the … post [of children's rights commissioner], it will remain rightly criticised as being only half hearted about the rights of the child. ... Without such a move we risk children's rights continuing to languish near the bottom of the political agenda.[10]

And an NSPCC spokesman recently claimed—

There has never been a greater need for a children's commissioner to be the champion and watchdog for 11 million children in England ... too often, children are failed by the very people, institutions and systems that are supposed to protect them and to promote their welfare.[11]

5. Other witnesses we have heard from were in favour of a commissioner.[12] The then President of the Association of Directors of Social Services told us in 2002 that he was—

... frankly surprised, verging on astonished, that the Government seemed unwilling to do this … I do strongly believe it is needed…our children have too long been left without a voice.[13]

The President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health felt that—

... the mere fact of having a Children's Commissioner puts children's issues much more on the map.[14]

The then Chief Education Officer, Birmingham City Council, emphasised what he saw as the need to stop procrastinating—

I would definitely go for a children's commissioner ahead of one for adults because there is … an issue of treating children as they might become, as opposed to what they are. I think that we should have one now because for every child that loses their rights, we are wasting the future. We should get on with it.[15]


1   Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the United Kingdom's Second Periodic Report, 31st Session, September 2002, issued 4 October 2002, paragraph 16 (CRC/C/15/Add.188 available via www.unhchr.ch) Back

2   Twenty­seven other countries, according to the Children's Rights Alliance for England, The Case for a Children's Rights Commissioner, March 2003,p 9 Back

3   Sixth Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, The Case for a Human Rights Commission, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 67-I/HC 489-I Back

4   House of Commons, First Standing Committee on Delegated Legislation, 16 January 2003, Draft Commissioner for Children and Young People (Northern Ireland) Order 2003, c 3 Back

5   See Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee on 18 November 2002, HL Paper 98-ii/HC 81-i, Q 108 Back

6   Concluding Observations, op cit, para 8 Back

7   ibid., para 23 Back

8   Second Report from the Health Committee, Session 1997-98, Children Looked after by Local Authorities, HC 319-I; Lost in Care-Report of the Tribunal of Inquiry into the Abuse of Children in Care in the Former County Council Areas of Gwynedd and Clwyd since 1974, HC (1999-2000) 201; Learning from Bristol: the report of the public inquiry into children's heart surgery at the Bristol Royal Infirmary 1984-1995, Cm 5207, July 2000 Back

9   Cherie Booth QC Back

10   Barbara Kahan lecture for Barnardo's, 24 September 2002 Back

11   BBC News Online, 5.9.02 Back

12   In addition to the written evidence published with this report, evidence published in our Twenty-second Report, Session 2001-02, The Case for a Human Rights Commission: Interim Report, HL Paper 160/HC 1142 is relevant. This includes the oral evidence taken before the Committee on: 13 May 2002 from Mr Michael Leadbetter, President, Association of Directors of Social Services and Director of Social Services, Essex County Council, Mr Chris Waterman, General Secretary, Association of Chief Education Officers and Secretary, Society of Education Officers and Mr Peter Newell, Chair, Children's Rights Alliance for England (pp Ev 23 to Ev 37); on 10 June 2002 from Fred Tyson Brown, Andy Butler and James Sweeney of CRAE's Right Here, Right Now Programme and Diana Savickaja, Joel Semakula and Gbemi Sodimu of CRAE's London Children's Commissioner Project, and from Professor David Hall, President, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (pp Ev 52 to Ev 63); and on 17 June 2002 from Professor Tim Brighouse, Chief Education Officer, Birmingham City Council and from Ms Esther Rantzen, Chairman of the Board of Trustees and Ms Carole Easton, Chief Executive, ChildLine (pp Ev 64 to Ev 74); and the written evidence from the Children's Society, the Office of the Children's Rights Commissioner for London, the Children's Rights Commissioner for London, and the Children's Rights Alliance for England (pp Ev 203 to Ev 217) and from Laura Dent (p Ev 232). Also relevant are the Minutes of Evidence taken before the Committee in connection with its inquiry into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child from Ms Carolyne Willow, Children's Rights Alliance for England, Ms Jennifer Turpie, Scottish Alliance for Children's Rights, Ms Catriona Williams, Children in Wales and Ms Sheri Chamberlain, Northern Ireland Programme Director, Save the Children, Ms Mary Marsh, NSPCC, Ms Judy Lister, Regional Director for UK/Europe, Save the Children and Ms Kathy Evans, Children's Society, on 15 July 2002, HL Paper 98-i/HC 1102-i of Session 2002-02; and from the Rt Hon John Denham MP, Minister for Children and Young People, and Ms Althea Efunshile, Director of the Children and Young People's Unit, DfES, on 18 November 2002, HL Paper 98-ii/HC 81-i of Session 2002-03. Other written evidence received in connection with our inquiry into the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child will be published in due course. Back

13   Twenty-second Report, Session 2001-02, The Case for a Human Rights Commission: Interim Report, HL Paper 160/HC 1142, Q 111 and Q 135 Back

14   ibid, Q 294 Back

15   ibid, QQ 310 and 325 Back


 
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Prepared 12 May 2003