Children’s civil rights are at risk in the UK – here are some of the key issues. UNCRC Review Countdown Series. 6 days to go…

As we approach the UK’s review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on 18-19th May, Together is publishing a series of daily blogs to examine issues we want to see raised. Today we’re looking at children’s civil rights and freedoms.

What are civil rights and freedoms?

Civil rights and freedoms are about making sure people can participate fully in the communities where they live and can live their life free of unfair restrictions from the government. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) sets out a range of civil rights and freedoms, for example:

  • The right to freedom of expression
  • The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion (including no religion)
  • The right to gather together, to join clubs and groups
  • The right to privacy
  • The right to access information

What issues do we want to see raised at the UK’s review?

Together’s State of Children’s Rights Report 2023 highlighted three key challenges to children’s civil rights and freedoms, namely: compulsory religious observance in schools, the use of mosquito devices and threats to children’s privacy within the justice system.

Religious observance

The law says that schools have to provide “religious observance” to pupils with a focus on Christianity. Parents and carers can withdraw their child but children have no equivalent right that they can exercise by themselves. This is despite a recommendation from the UN Committee in 2016 that children should be given a right to withdraw. Scottish Government said it would look at the issue but progress has been very slow. Our member, Humanist Society Scotland has been leading the call for change. In the lead up to the UK’s review by the UN Committee, Fraser Sutherland, CEO said:

“This review is a chance to take stock of how Scotland’s government is upholding children’s right, and where it could be doing better. As Scotland’s national humanist charity we’re determined to ensure freedom of thought and expression is protected in our education system. It’s time for the Government to take meaningful action on an outstanding observation by the UN that has been on their to-do list for over seven years and remove compulsory religious worship from our schools.”

Mosquito devices

Another issue raised in our report is the continued use of mosquito devices. These are machines that emit a high-pitched noise, audible only to under-25s which is intended to disperse groups of children and young people. Mosquito devices can cause irritation, pain, anxiety and distress in children, particularly babies and disabled children. This is an issue that the UN Committee has made repeated recommendations about progress has again been stilted. While the Scottish Government has spoken against the devices and confirmed that local authorities no longer use them, nothing has been done to prevent private individuals and businesses from using them. Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament led a passionate and sustained campaign to ban their sale but Scottish Government said it did not have the powers to do this as restricting the sale of mosquito devices was a trade issue reserved to the UK Government.

Right to privacy

The third issue we want to see the UN Committee make a recommendation on is children’s right to privacy. Our members who support children in the justice system have raised a number of concerns including that judges can allow the identity of a child who has been accused or convicted of a crime to be published if this is seen as “in the public interest”; disproportionate use of stop and search powers on children compared to adults; and the use of invasive and traumatising strip searches on children.

Speaking ahead of the UK review, Fiona Dyer, Director, Children & Young People’s Centre of Justice said:

“My hope is the review recommends that the right to privacy is upheld for all children, and that lifelong protection is provided for offences committed before the age of 18. Additionally, searches should only be conducted when absolutely necessary. This should be assessed proportionate to risk; where it is deemed necessary all searches should be conducted in a trauma-informed manner.”

We hope to see the UN Committee pick up on these issues next week. Make sure you follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to keep up-to-date with the review.

Stay tuned for our next article on ending violence against children coming out at 08:00am tomorrow!

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