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Children’s rights have regressed in many areas, warns coalition of charities

The government must address several critical children’s rights issues urgently to prevent worsening impacts on the most vulnerable children, a coalition of 90 charities has warned.

Ahead of Human Rights Day on 10 December, the coalition led by the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, reveals that children’s rights have regressed in many areas since the UN’s last examination in 2016. It also highlights that the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic has not prioritised children’s rights and not enabled their voices in vital policy and legislative decisions to be heard.

Louise King, Director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, part of Just for Kids law, said: “Published to mark Human Rights Day, the findings of our report make for disheartening reading: children are being failed in many aspects of their lives and their rights are not being respected. Children continue to be a low political priority, and this been exacerbated during the pandemic. The UK government needs to take urgent action to embed children’s rights into domestic law to ensure we don’t fall further behind progress being made in Scotland and Wales and that children’s rights are at the centre of the country’s recovery from the pandemic.”

The report marks the start of the UK’s examination under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. While there has been some progress, the report concludes that children’s rights remain worryingly low on the political agenda in England. Scotland will shortly directly incorporate the Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law, however, the UK government has refused to do so.

The report also outlines that children’s access to justice has been eroded since 2016 and, with the Human Rights Act now under threat, the domestic legal framework for protecting children’s human rights is at great risk.

Black children have continued to suffer persistent discrimination, being disproportionately represented in school exclusions and in all parts of the criminal justice system. Yet there is still no cross-government strategy for preventing and addressing systematic racism and race discrimination, despite numerous reviews.

The report highlights that:

- Low income families are now living in deeper poverty than five years ago, despite rising employment prior to the pandemic. The economic impact of Covid-19 and Brexit is predicted to further increase child poverty, yet there are 4.2 million children already living in poverty in the UK.

- Inequalities in key children’s health outcomes, such as mortality and obesity, have widened since 2016 for those from poorer and BAME backgrounds, yet there is no strategy or targets to address this.

- Despite increased investment, suicide is among the leading causes of death for 5 to 19-year olds. It is estimated that one in six 5 to 16-year olds in England have a mental health problem which has been further exacerbated by Covid-19.

- The educational attainment gap has widened as Covid-19 exacerbated the issue, with children from disadvantaged and BAME backgrounds falling further behind their peers.

- Although there have been welcome developments to children’s social care legislation, funding for children’s and youth services has been decimated, whilst the numbers of children in care or needing protection are rising, and the pandemic has placed additional pressure on services.

- The safety and welfare of children in the criminal justice system is being put at risk and racial disparities are widening at every stage of the youth justice system. Since May 2019, the proportion of minority ethnic children in penal custody has been over 50% of the population.

- The rights of children in the immigration system have suffered as a result of the government’s punitive Hostile Environment and there are currently 215,000 undocumented children in the UK who face great barriers to regularising their status.

Alison Garnham, Chief Executive of the Child Poverty Action Group, said: “Since the last UNCRC examination in 2016, child poverty has been rising, and as a result of Coronavirus, things are likely to get worse for children and their families before they get better. Without co-ordinated national action to tackle child poverty in the UK, a generation of children will be deprived of their basic rights to a safe and secure home, an adequate education, and a healthy childhood. This report sets out some of the key areas the UK government should focus on if they are serious about protecting children’s rights in the UK. This starts with taking meaningful action to tackle child poverty.”

Mark Russell, Chief Executive of The Children’s Society, added: “All children have a right to good health and access to health services, yet clearly too many – particularly those from disadvantaged backgrounds – are being denied the opportunity. The Coronavirus has exacerbated many challenges for children and the government’s policy response often failed to ensure their needs were met, resulting in increased numbers struggling with low well-being. It is vital that ministers put children’s rights and their well-being at the heart of the recovery, to ensure every young person can grow up with improved health outcomes.”

England Civil Society Submission to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child to inform its List of Issues Prior to Reporting (LOIPR)

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