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. Finally, as the review commences tomorrow, we’re looking at children in need of special protection.
What does the UNCRC say?
The UNCRC recognises that certain groups of children are in need of special protection. This includes children who are in contact with the justice system, children who are seeking asylum and children who may be interested in joining the armed forces. Governments need to take extra care to make sure these children are happy, healthy and safe and that all of their rights are upheld.
What issues do we want to see raised?
Refugee and asylum-seeking children
In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child made a range of recommendations relating to asylum-seeking, refugee and migrant children. This included calls to strengthen safeguards around age assessments, to end the detention of children, to facilitate family reunion for separated children and to ensure access to basic services such as healthcare and appropriate housing.
Our 2023 State of Children’s Rights Report lays bare that many of these recommendations aren’t close to being achieved. The UK Government’s Nationality and Borders Act and recent Illegal Migration Bill (perhaps more accurately, a ‘Refugee Ban Bill’) continue to prioritise immigration control far above children’s best interests.
Children in the justice system
Our report to the UN Committee highlights that Scotland’s minimum age of criminal responsibility remains below international standards, despite being raised from eight to 12 years old. It calls for a recommendation that the Scottish Government raise this to at least 14 at the earliest opportunity.
Our report also notes the discriminatory treatment of 16- and 17-year-olds who are frequently treated as adults within the justice system and accordingly do not have access to conditions and support that upholds their rights. It highlights the shortages of secure care placements and the result that children are inappropriately sent to Young Offenders Institutions.
Fiona Dyer, Director, Children and Young People’s Centre for Justice said:
“The Scottish Government has made a commitment to removing all children from YOIs by 2024. My hope is for the review to ensure that this happens imminently; individuals aged 16 and 17 should be seen as children, and as such their rights as children should be upheld”.
Armed forces recruitment
Despite a recommendation from the UN Committee in 2016, the UK continues to recruit children into the armed forces from age 16. In 2021-22, 23% of the total intake to the armed forces was 16- and 17-year olds. There are significant concerns that recruitment of children is often not based on voluntary and full-informed consent. Recruitment information emphasises benefits while downplaying risks and seeks to exploit adolescent vulnerabilities. Army recruitment disproportionately targets children living in areas of deprivation. Further, children who enlist must complete a minimum service period which is up to two years longer than what is required by adult recruits.
We hope to see the UN Committee pick up on these issues when the review starts tomorrow afternoon. Make sure you follow us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn to keep up-to-date with the review.
You can view tomorrow’s session live from 15:00-18:00 CET here, and Friday’s session from 10:00-13:00 CET.