UN Child Rights Committee publishes report on the UK
Concern expressed over the potential impact of the Illegal Migration Bill
The United Nations (UN) Child Rights Committee published its concluding observations on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on 2 June, which sets out the main developments, concerns and recommendations for the UK government and devolved regions on implementing the Child Rights Convention.
The findings, following an examination by the Committee, identify areas of progress since the 2016 report, including the carrying out of an independent review of children’s social care and the commitment to bring all greenhouse gas emissions to net zero by 2050. However, concerns are raised about the high numbers of children living in poverty, the long waiting lists for children seeking mental health services, and the high prevalence of domestic abuse, sexual exploitation, and other forms of violence against children.
More specifically, the UN Committee’s findings raise concerns about the potential impact of the Illegal Migration Bill on children, the criminalisation of arrival without prior permission, and restrictions on the rights of asylum and family reunification. The UK government is therefore advised to urgently amend the Illegal Migration Bill to repeal all draft provisions that would have the effect of violating children’s rights, to ensure that all asylum-seeking and refugee children, including unaccompanied children, are not criminalised and have access to the support and services they need, and to guarantee that unaccompanied children have an unqualified right to apply for family reunification.
The Committee also expresses concern that children as young as 10 or 12 are held criminally responsible across the country, that children who are 16 and 17 years old are not always treated as children by the justice system, and that legislation allows children to be imprisoned for life. It is recommended that the UK government raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years of age, ensure that children are not prosecuted as adult offenders, and that life imprisonment for children and young people who committed offences when they were below the age of 18 is abolished.
Commenting on the findings, Fergal McFerran, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the Children’s Law Centre said: “This is a damning set of recommendations from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. It reflects the grim picture facing children and young people in this jurisdiction today. The gap in children’s rights has grown significantly over the last decade and children and young people are suffering every day because of it, whether that’s facing discrimination, failure to access services or simply not being allowed to have a say on decisions affecting them. We now need to see swift action to address the many failings identified throughout the examination process. There can be no excuses or delay. The scale of non-compliance with human rights obligations is alarming. Some major recommendations like raising the age of criminal responsibility, legislation to protect under 18s from age discrimination, and the introduction of a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland have been outstanding for years and have now been included in successive concluding observations. Other recommendations like scrapping the Northern Ireland budget, ending PSNI strip-searches of children and ending the use of contingency accommodation for asylum seeking children are new and add to a growing list of children’s rights breaches.”
The Committee also published findings on Finland, France, Jordan, Sao Tome and Principe, and Türkiye.