Examination of Witnesses (Questions 244
MONDAY 10 JUNE 2002
244. Good afternoon everyone. Welcome to this
meeting of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I am sure you
are all aware that the Committee is currently enquiring into whether
we should have a Human Rights Commissioner and we have been looking
at human rights in the context of different groups of the population.
We have been told by professionals who work with children that,
in considering whether there should be a Human Rights Commission,
there is at least the need for a Children's Rights Commissioner.
Given one of our international obligations to hear the voices
of children, we thought it would be very useful for us to hear
directly from children today about human rights and how they see
human rights. We are very grateful to the Children's Rights Alliance
of England for helping us today to get these children to come
along. We are very grateful to them for appearing before us today.
I want to make it absolutely clear to everybody that we are not
in any way being tokenistic about having these children here.
We want to hear directly from them about their experiences and
their views. Diana, can you tell us what kinds of discrimination
and human rights problems children and young people experience?
(Diana Savickaja) Sometimes in shops
shopkeepers might see that you are a child. When you get out of
the shop, the shopkeeper might want to check your pockets. In
schools and clubs children might get picked on because of their
race or culture. They might tell you some expressions like, "Get
plastic surgery and stay away from me." Sometimes, if you
are a Muslim and you wear a scarf you might get people pulling
it off your head. Sometimes Muslims get picked on because of what
happened on 11 September and they say that Muslims are related
to Bin Laden. Sometimes people get bullied because they do not
have a lot of money, new toys or designer clothing. Sometimes
it is hard for older children to pay for the bus as a child fee
because bus drivers think you are old enough to pay an adult fee.
There is discrimination against black kids, thinking they might
do crack. Some people pick on you and your family by saying rude
things about them. People get discriminated against if they are
asylum seekers or refugees, especially asylum seekers because
they cannot travel because the Home Office has got their passport.
People get bullied on what they wear, how they look, what they
bring to school and what countries they come from. Basically,
you get picked on for what you have and have not got.
245. You have seen some of these things happen,
(Diana Savickaja) Yes.
246. Diana, you talked a lot about bullying.
As well as helping the people on this Committee, I am involved
in a charity called Child Line that you might know a bit about,
which has done a lot about bullying. Some people think that maybe
schools can sort out bullying on their own and maybe we do not
need anything more and schools should get better at it. Do you
have any ideas about why we need to do more to stop bullying?
Do you think bullying is a big problem?
(Diana Savickaja) Bullying is a big problem. Lots
of people get bullied at our school.
247. Are schools good at stopping it?
(Diana Savickaja) They tell you off and just carry
on. The people do it again and nothing happens.
248. Do any of the others have views about bullying?
(James Sweeney) In the local area I reside in there
are two young girls who have died, committed suicide, in the last
two months, who go to the same school and they are in the same
class. Local residents suspect that that is bullying. The school
are not taking any responsibility. They are not even considering
that it is bullying. Local residents think there should be an
investigation but nothing has come about yet.
249. One of the things that gets said about
bullying is that the government has done enough because it has
told schools they have to have a bullying policy and all schools
now have one. The problem we have found at Child Line is that
telling a school to have a policy is not the same as making a
culture in a school in which people think bullying is wrong and
it should not happen. How do you think a Human Rights Commission
could help us get that culture there?
(James Sweeney) Obviously, through schools putting
different policies in place. From my experience, that does not
work. You have to liaise with the person who is bullying and get
them to come to terms and make them feel guilty, the same as you
would with an adult.
(Gbemi Sodimu) Some people in schools think that if
you exclude the bully that will work. Most of the time that does
not work. Some bullies like being excluded from school so the
bullying will just carry on. It is not always in schools that
bullying happens. Sometimes bullying happens outside schools and
schools will not do anything about that, even though it started
inside the school. A Children's Commissioner would help because
they could get into contact with the children and help them.
250. Diana, you said adults do not do a great
deal. What happens in your school if somebody says they are being
bullied to a teacher or if teachers, without being complained
to, see bullying take place?
(Diana Savickaja) You just get told off or, if it
is really bad, you get your parents called in and sometimes you
get suspended but it does not help because when they come back
they just carry on.
251. Fred, how do you think children and young
people in this country get information about their rights and
what can they do if they feel their rights are not respected?
(Fred Tyson Brown) Children and young people should
have many resources and places to hear and learn about their human
rights but from my experience we do not hear about them much at
all. I have been in school for a decade and I have only ever had
one lesson on the subject. This did not explain that we have rights;
only that some countries break them. That was when I was in year
eight. Over the past two years, I have had to compile my own research
into human rights. I only did this because I was encouraged by
my father to learn about a lot of the trouble for teachers in
schools. Where I live, there are three youth clubs and they occasionally
get some information but it is limited. The information they get
is usually just leaflets from non-government organisations who
deal with children's rights. These have been interesting and useful
but people are generally not interested because they do not get
the basic education on rights. If there was education on human
rights, I feel that a lot more children and young people would
feel more encouraged to take an active part in promoting human
rights and children's rights in particular. All schools should
really have information on human rights and there should be substantive
teaching about it in the national curriculum, but there is not,
in my experience. It should be covered in our personal education
and religious education lessons but it is not. We only ever learn
about misuse of drugs, sexually transmitted infections and things
like that. These things they go over and over again; they never
teach you about anything else. We never learn about our rights,
other people's rights and the working of government. By introducing
a Children's Rights Commissioner, he or she would make sure that
we and our parents would know about our human rights. This is
what Article 42 in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
says. The Commissioner's whole aim is to make sure that the government
is keeping to the Convention which our government signed ten years
ago. In answer to the second question, where do children and young
people go if there are problems, children and young people have
a small number of places to go if they do have problems. These
include charities such as the NSPCC, Barnardo's and the Children's
Society. The list goes on. There are also many telephone support
lines such as ChildLine. The main problem with all of these is
that they do not have much legal power to change things. Some
charities have some power but not very much influence on the government.
There is a big lack of funding. This lack of funding stretches
into many organisations. The big problem is that you need to train
staff to work with children and young people who understand the
European Convention and treat us with respect. Training these
people costs a lot of money and takes quite a long time. This
happened in the group that I am a member of, Right Here, Right
Now. We had four training weekends in Leicester. It was worth
it but it cost a lot and it took a whole lot of time. In joining
these non-governmental organisations, you might not get very far
due to lack of funding. Another problem is that children and young
people cannot get solicitors easily. This morning, I met a children's
lawyer. I never knew this existed before now. This again shows
the lack of information for children in this country. Many children
of particular groups, cultures and religions are being ignored
and dismissed by the government. Refugee children particularly
have big problems with their rights. This government seems to
think they do not have rights but they have all the rights that
I have. Refugee children have difficulty getting services and
many of them are picked on by their peers. They are also getting
dreadful treatment in this country. This is shown by, in my view,
the racist remarks of David Blunkett on the subject of swamping.
This shows the extent of how this government does not respect
children and young people. By introducing a Children's Rights
Commissioner, he or she would set up offices all over the country.
Children and young people would be able to drop into these offices
and say if there were problems and things that needed to happen.
These offices would report back to the Commissioner and the Commissioner
would have the power to tell the government that this or that
needed doing. He or she would be a large influence on how the
government was working to support children and young people. Children
and young people would also be able to drop into the offices to
have their say. The offices would make sure that children and
young people were part of the whole democratic process or the
decision making that the government does regarding children's
rights. This comes back to Article 12 of the UN Convention on
the Rights of the Child, that says that all children and young
people should be part of any decisions made that affect them.
This shows that by bringing a Children's Rights Commissioner into
this country children and young people would have a place to go
if there were problems and the problems would ultimately be resolved.
252. Thank you for a very detailed, clear answer
and for some very interesting points. You say you have done some
research. Can I ask why you feel, from your research, that there
is so little information available to children and young people?
Why is it that you have only found this out yourself and it is
not available in schools? What do you think the reason for that
is? Secondly, what is the biggest change you think should take
place to improve matters, apart from the appointment of a Commissioner?
(Fred Tyson Brown) Firstly, I think schools do not
do much. I am not sure if it is schools or the government but
we do not get any leaflets, information or people saying, "This
has come out" or stuff like that. They could do so much more
to give us information like things in libraries. I have looked
a lot in our school library and there is not a lot about politics
and human rights. I found a few books on certain political parties
and political systems but nothing about the rights of the child.
There was about one book on human rights which was about 15 years
old. I think it is a pretty poor show if that kind of thing is
253. It is a lack of respect for young people?
(Fred Tyson Brown) Yes. It shows that the government
is not bothering about it. It is such a short part of our lives,
it feels as though they are overlooking it as something that they
do not concentrate on too much, but it is when we are most influenced.
It is when we are going to learn things. It is when adults today
have most influence on us to create a better adult for future
254. Could I ask if you have a school council
in your school and whether in your area you have anything like
a youth forum? In one of the areas near to where I live, there
is a shadow council. The local authority which has elected members
is shadowed by young people who are also elected, who can pretend
that they are making decisions, their views are noted and they
are involved in decisions. Is there anything like that going on
around your way?
(Fred Tyson Brown) Not at all. The council seem to
build a skate board ramp or a youth club and leave it at that.
In the school, I think there is a council but I never hear about
it. There is definitely a lack of communication between these
groups and children and young people.
Baroness Perry of Southwark
255. James, do you think the government, Parliament,
the courts, local authority areas like schools, hospitals and
social services, environment and planning agencies, take children's
rights into account when they make laws and regulations and carry
out their work?
(James Sweeney) First of all, I would like to talk
about children and young people in care. Care leavers are entitled
to £42 per week. That has to pay for gas, electricity, food,
water, TV licence and recreational activities, travelling expenses,
toiletries, in-house decorations, gifts for occasions. The list
goes on. Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the
Child states that state parties recognise the right of every child
to a good standard of living, adequate for the child's physical,
mental, spiritual, moral and social development. How can anyone
maintain a good or decent standard of living on £42 per week?
If you are training, you are entitled to £57 per week but
what if that young person is having problems? What if he or she
has autism or attention deficit disorder or attention deficit
hyperactive disorder? Article 27 of the UN Convention on the Rights
of the Child says, "All children have the right to good health."
What the government often forgets is that this means mental and
emotional health. Recreation is one of the ways of preventing
such things as depression and breakdowns. How is somebody able
to have a recreational life as a care leaver? In conclusion, Article
12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that children
should be included in all matters that affect them. Children and
young people in care were never included in the decisions to implement
the weekly benefits, the national minimum wage, social service
policies etc. The only thing I can recall during my time in care
is being asked what activity I would like to have next week and
I had a choice of one or two activities. 80 per cent of care leavers
leave care without any qualifications at all. I am an unproud
example of that statistic. The necessary support was not set up
despite constant inquiries by myself. Government policies need
to be looked at closely with young people, not just vulnerable
young people, although this is vital as well. The government made
children's homes and foster homes into an institutional life,
where young people have to live like a business. That is not life
at all. Take the Victoria Climbié case. If the social workers,
doctors, policemen and women had asked her even once how she got
her injuries, she would still have her precious life today. In
hospitals, you cannot refuse medication or discharge yourself
if you are under 16. The Children and Young People's Unit document
states, "Children and young people should have full participation
in a democratic society." Why has not the voting age been
reduced to 16? A Children's Rights Commissioner would be essential
to promote and implement and advocate children's rights in schools,
in the law, social services and other local authorities. It is
good to have the CYPU. It is a positive step for a Children's
Rights Commissioner who would be independent in the government
and this is very important and essential. The Children's Rights
Commissioner should also have powerse.g., I mentioned some
of the issues that affect children and young people. A Children's
Rights Commissioner could look at these areas and make sure that,
when laws are made, the government, media, social services, local
authorities, etc., always take into account what effect they have
on children. Children and young people should always be consulted
on big decisions. Adults should not be wary to trust us. You need
to give respect to get it back. Giving evidence today is a step
in the right direction. I hope we get more chance in the future.
Consulting with children's groups such as Right Here, Right Now
is the right step for the future and I hope you have more opportunities.
256. Thank you very much. You have obviously
taken a lot of time considering all these issues in the past.
I was particularly interested in what you said about 80 per cent
of people leaving care with no training at all. What would you
like done about that? Do you think that is an issue for the carers,
the care homes, or is it something where we could have legislation
to make it compulsory or better allowances?
(James Sweeney) It means that local authorities should
liaise with each other. Take my case, for instance. I mentioned
earlier that I am an unproud example of that 80 per cent. I left
college approximately five or six weeks ago. I had no support.
I have been waiting for support for 12 months. Nothing came through.
I asked the lecturers and social workers why the support had not
come through. They said, "We could not find the funding."
I said, "Why did you not inform me?" Do you know what
their answer was? "You should have asked." That is just
a bit immature of these professionals and they are always on about
young people being immature and irresponsible. The situation needs
liaising. It needs funding input into places like colleges, schools,
special support units, counsellors for people to speak to. Lecturers
and social workers need to be trained in this sort of thing. They
should not walk into an office thinking they can do the job.
257. You want training for lecturers in colleges?
(James Sweeney) And teachers in schools.
258. Did you get help from your college in finding
a job? Did you get some job counselling? Has anyone given you
that kind of help and advice?
(James Sweeney) I have had to sort that out myself.
I have to go to Connections which was recently set up in my area.
I have had to go and see the careers adviser by myself. I did
not even realise there was a careers adviser until I read a college
leaflet. Social workers could not help me. They did not have the
right experience to go along with me, so they said. They had not
got the time to go into careers. We need more social workers and
support workers to help young people in care in the local environment.
Speaking from my own experience, my family was not there to go
to these places with me so it only seems right that I should have
somebody to act as a parent to go along with me.
259. Fred and James have been talking about
children not being consulted enough. Gbemi also said that the
Children's Rights Commissioner could get in contact with children.
As we know, there is an Article in the UN Convention on the Rights
of the Child that children's voices themselves should be heard.
How do you think that Article, Article 12, could be promoted by
a Human Rights or Children's Commissioner?
(Joel Semakula) Article 12 states that whenever adults
make a decision that will affect children in any way they have
the right to give their opinion and the adults have the responsibility
to take that seriously. The Commissioner could ask schools and
children before big decisions are made; not only ask them about
the little decisions that children do not really care about. For
example, when the government is building a play scheme or something
like that, ask young people where they think it should be, not
what colour the walls should be. Have a person or persons who
are quite young go to schools and clubs, asking kids their views
about different decisions and changes that the government would
like to make so he or she can return all the information back
to the Commissioner and they can decide whether to go ahead with
a decision or change. For example, whether kids think that a new
park could be put in their area. That is something young people
could be asked. Have places where kids can go to when they are
in trouble. Have a counsellor so they could report to them, who
has the power to change things for children. You could also have
a help line which kids could phone if they think something in
the area needs changing or they do not think something is right.
Have child friendly activities and meetings to make it easier
for young people to give their views and so that kids do not have
to go to these long, boring meetings. Have people who translate
documents from the governmentfor example, the CRAE projectto
make it easier for young people to access, read and understand
these documents. The Commissioner could promote young people contributing
to decision making across the board. Maybe they could hold decision
making classes for younger people to make it easier for them to
tell the Commissioner what they think and not to be afraid. They
could also promote it in the school curriculum. I think children
and young people would like to learn about their rights but I
do not think there is any information available for them, which
is quite unfair. Children and young people are heavy users of
public services but they normally have little say, according to
the government, about decisions affecting them. This needs changing.
Children and young people can participate in very simple things
but little decisions to adults might seem like big things to children
and young people. For example, when a playground is closed down
and a new one is going to be built, nobody considers us. Some
children might have many memories of that old park and do not
want a new one to be built. Nobody is asked because adults think
it does not really matter, but it does and there is nobody to
tell. That is why I think a Commissioner would be good for kids.