Across the UK

UK

The current UK Government has recognised the need to foster greater respect for children and to acknowledge them explicitly as rights holders, as well as drawing attention to the responsibility of the state and wider society for children. This suggests a shift towards a better understanding of children's rights and continues a growing trend over recent years.

The coalition Government has also emphasised the importance of ensuring children's existing rights (including those protected under the Human Rights Act) remain in place, and that any new measures build on these. On the other hand, the agreement that underpins the coalition Government does not refer to the Human Rights Act; instead proposing to build on the Government's 'obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights'.

There is no doubt that now is an uncertain time for human rights in the UK, with conflicting messages from both Government and Opposition on the future of human rights in the UK and concerns that children may lose the important protection they enjoy under the Human Rights Act. It is vital that any reform intended to strengthen children's rights must build upon current human rights protection rather than dilute it.

Many politicians in the UK have recognised the fundamental importance of rights in enabling children to develop to their full potential. John Denham MP, as Minister for Young People, explained in his speech to the UN General Assembly in 2002 that:

'The way to ensure children's well-being is to take full account of their rights.'

The three main UK political parties have high ambitions for the UK's children and have recognised the importance of the Convention as an instrument for change. Most notably, the Liberal Democrats - in their 2010 election manifesto - committed to incorporating the Convention into UK law. Although the Liberal Democrats were the only party to cite the Convention directly in their manifesto, the Labour and Conservative parties also outlined their approach to human rights in the UK and abroad, both with clear implications for children.

However, the UK Government has not yet set out any plans to incorporate the Convention into UK law, nor to create any new enforceable rights for children. There is currently no UK-wide children's rights strategy aimed at fully implementing the Convention in the UK. The UK Government is right to say that it will put children and families at the heart of its plans. However, if it is to have any chance of creating the best place in the world for children to grow up, it must do much, much more.

 

Wales

In January 2011, all political parties in Wales voted in favour of the Rights of Children and Young People (Wales) Measure, embedding the Convention into Welsh law (within its legislative competence at the time).

 

Scotland

Despite the existing responsibility on the Scottish Government to observe and implement international human rights conventions and the prominence of the UNCRC in key government policies, children's organisations report great variation across Scotland in terms of children accessing and experiencing many of their rights. Although the UNCRC already imposes binding obligations on Scottish Ministers, non-compliance cannot be tested in the courts. Where the UNCRC has already been introduced into top-level policy, it has not yet been matched by a consistent understanding or promotion of its purpose, content or implementation across regions, public bodies and professions.

In September 2011, the Scottish Government consulted on a Rights of Children and Young People Bill which proposed to put a duty on all Scottish Ministers to give 'due regard' to the UNCRC in exercising their functions. A statement in the consultation paper for the Bill was clear that 'the Scottish Government is not proposing to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law' . Although the proposals outlined in the consultation for the Bill fell far short of committing to full incorporation, the children's sector recognised that it could make a significant difference politically and administratively. It would raise the profile and status of children's rights and the UNCRC across government departments and also more widely among the public.

In June 2012, the Scottish Government then announced its intention to integrate the Rights of Children and Young People Bill into a Children and Young People Bill. Rather than a duty of 'due regard' to the UNCRC, the Scottish Government now proposes a duty that requires Scottish Ministers 'to take appropriate steps to further the rights of children and young people'. There is concern from the children's sector that this duty is vague and that the integration of the two Bills could result in the children's rights focus being lost among the wider consideration of children's services. ROCK is urging the Scottish Government to use the opportunity presented by the Children and Young People Bill to outline concrete steps it can take towards incorporation of the UNCRC into law.

 

Northern Ireland

In Northern Ireland, Sinn Féin stated that it 'supports the full implementation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child' in its Westminster Election Manifesto of 2010. It went on to state that '...we believe that the Convention must underpin all laws and policies relating directly and/or indirectly to children'. The Convention has also been invoked by Northern Ireland Assembly Members from other parties, including Gregory Campbell (DUP) 15 and Dawn Purvis (Independent).