Case study #6: UN Committee recognises inadequate sites for Gypsy/Traveller children and young people

article-12This case study was written for Together’s 2016 ‘State of Children’s Rights’ report by Article 12 in Scotland. Article 12 is a non-governmental organisation that works to promote young people’s rights as set out in international human rights treaties. Through the Young Gypsy Travellers’ Lives project, Article 12 in Scotland aims to significantly improve relations between the Gypsy/Traveller and settled communities; building bridges, bonds and links between people and communities of different cultures, enabling young Gypsy/Travellers to contribute as equal citizens and live their lives free from prejudice. In 2015, Article 12 in Scotland submitted an alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in which young Gypsy/Travellers spoke about a lack suitable and culturally appropriate accommodation, and the everyday impact this has on their rights. Information for this case study has been taken from Article 12 in Scotland’s alternative report: I Witness: The UNCRC in the United Kingdom: Young Gypsy/ Travellers’ Voices. The case study headlined the report chapter for Family Environment and Alternative Care.

Young Gypsy/Travellers are currently facing unacceptable levels of discrimination, harassment and abuse at the hands of the media, the authorities and members of the settled community; this has a negative impact upon every aspect of their lives. The huge shortfall in culturally sensitive accommodation, the geographical location of sites and a lack of public transport are all barriers which restrict young Gypsy/Travellers access to everything from everyday essentials such as clean drinking water, electricity and sanitary facilities, to participating in education, finding employment, accessing basic healthcare, maintaining relationships with their peers and having access to ‘normal’ social and recreational activities, including safe spaces to play. This can, and indeed does, have an extremely negative effect on the physical health and mental well-being of young Gypsy/Travellers.

We used to have bricks thrown at us and called names every day at one site, but you just get used to it.

On one site when we were shifting [moving on] last week, there were men who came to where we were camped and were throwing metal poles at our trailers.

A lot of people don’t like us, some people are fine but others are not.

The lack of adequate sites, both transit and permanent, has become catastrophic. A ‘not-in-my-back-yard’ attitude to the provision of Gypsy/Traveller sites – both private and run by the local authority – results in Gypsy/Travellers being forced to live ‘illegally’. Even those living on one of the few council sites available have been subjected to racial harassment from those living around them. The few that are lucky enough to live on private land are in the minority; planning permission is rarely granted, in part due to local opposition from residents and council officials. Being forced to move constantly affects young Gypsy/Travellers access to healthcare, education, employment and legal representation.

When you are moved on, you’re told there are plenty of Traveller sites but people don’t realise you have to put your name on a waiting list, it can take months!

Our sites are very far away from everything: swimming pools, school [we don’t get transport provided anymore], cinemas, shops and places to eat.

Our rubbish doesn’t get lifted often enough and we can get rat problems on site.
We would like a better park to play in on site, the one we have is rusty and dangerous because you slip.

The huge shortage of official sites, the blocking off of traditional stopping places, and the discrimination many face when they try to camp on public campsites result in Gypsy/Travellers often being forced into camping on unsuitable plots of land, next to busy roads, on industrial estates, near pollutants and so on. Others, having been subjected to continuing harassment, choose to camp very remotely so as to avoid further victimisation. Most young Gypsy/Travellers reported that they have become the victims of hate crime when they travel to new areas.

After listening to the experiences of young Gypsy/Travellers in Scotland, the UN Committee made a specific recommendation that the Scottish Government introduce a statutory duty for local authorities to provide safe and adequate sites for Gypsy/Travellers. The UN Committee also stated that mechanisms should be put in place to ensure that Gypsy/Traveller communities, including children, can meaningfully participate in planning and decision-making processes.

As highlighted in the case study, there is a significant lack of culturally sensitive accommodation for Gypsy/Traveller children and a continued inequality between standards of housing for those in fixed accommodation and those who are living on sites. Together echoed the UN Committee’s recommendation in its report. See Together’s State of Children’s Rights report page 113 for further reading.

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