Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child Note Progress in Addressing the Age of Marriage in the United Kingdom, Ask about High Poverty Rates among Families with Children with Disabilities and the Proposed Illegal Migration Bill
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of the United Kingdom, with Committee Experts noting progress in addressing the age of marriage, and raising questions about high poverty rates among families with children with disabilities and the proposed illegal migration bill.
One Committee Expert took note of progress made in addressing the age of marriage. What was the timeline for increasing the age of marriage to 18 in all territories?
A Committee Expert said families with children with disabilities were more likely to face poverty than other families; 41 per cent of families with children with disabilities reportedly lived in poverty. How would the United Kingdom ensure that families with children with disabilities were supported to lower poverty rates?
Another Committee Expert asked whether the pending illegal migration bill was legal. It appeared to violate the Convention and prevent all children from attaining asylum. Was the bill suggesting that children escaping war zones could not obtain asylum?
Introducing the report, Sophie Langdale, Director of Strategy and Care System, Department for Education of the United Kingdom and head of the delegation, said important developments over the reporting period included increasing the age of marriage to 18 in England and Wales; the increased age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12 in Scotland; the extension of voting rights in Wales and Scotland to children aged 16 and 17; and changes in Jersey, Wales and Scotland to prohibit the use of physical punishment.
On the age of marriage, the delegation added that Scotland was gathering views on whether the minimum age of marriage should be increased from 16 to 18 years. There was a legislative project on reforming marriage laws in the Isle of Man to raise the age of consent to 18. The age of marriage in most overseas territories was 18. The Saint Helena Government reportedly had no plans to raise the age to 18, but the Government of the United Kingdom would continue to consult with it on this matter.
To address the poverty rates of families with children with disabilities, the United Kingdom had a financial support programme for children with disabilities. Benefits were tax-free. The Government was increasing the amount of payments for children with mental health issues. The number of recipients had increased to 45,000. Families with children were given priority in the provision of affordable and social housing. The Government was investing 11 billion pounds over five years in affordable and public housing. The Scottish and Welsh Governments also had strategies in place to address poverty and access to affordable housing.
The proposed illegal migration bill was subject to parliamentary scrutiny. There was nothing in the bill that breached the State party’s international obligations. The bill did not promote refoulement. Under the bill, any requests for asylum by children who had passed through safe countries would be declared inadmissible. Unaccompanied children who arrived illegally would be provided with temporary accommodation and support, but would not be allowed to stay permanently.
In closing remarks, Bragi Gudbrandsson, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for the United Kingdom, said that there were many excellent programmes in the State party to implement the Convention. However, there were areas where reform was needed, including in legislation implementing the Convention and coordination mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of the Convention, among the many other topics discussed in the dialogue. The Committee would seriously work to draw up the best possible concluding observations to promote the rights of children in the United Kingdom.
In her concluding remarks, Ms. Langdale said that the Committee had indicated areas where further work was needed to protect and promote children’s rights. The State was committed to continuous review and to improving children’s outcomes. It would work with all territories to develop plans to implement the Convention and the Committee’s recommendations. The State party would also engage with children on the Committee’s concluding observations.
The delegation of the United Kingdom consisted of representatives from the Department for Education; Department of Health and Social Care; Ministry of Defence; Ministry of Justice; Department for Work and Pensions; Home Office; Directorate of Communities and Tackling Poverty, Wales; Directorate of Improvement, Attainment and Wellbeing, Scotland; Directorate of Early Years, Children and Youth, Northern Ireland; Crown Advocate, Guernsey and Alderney; Jersey Crown Dependency; Isle of Man Crown Dependency; Directorate of Children's Rights, Protection and Justice, Scotland; Department of Health, Northern Ireland; and the Permanent Mission of the United Kingdom to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of the United Kingdom at the end of its ninety-third session on 26 May. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available on the session’s webpage. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public at 5 p.m. on Friday, 26 May to adopt its concluding observations on the reports of Finland, France, Jordan, Sao Tome and Principe, Türkiye and the United Kingdom, which were reviewed during the ninety-third session, and close the session.
The Committee has before it the combined sixth and seventh periodic report of the United Kingdom (CRC/C/GBR/6-7).
Presentation of Report
SOPHIE LANGDALE, Director of Strategy and Care System, Department for Education of the United Kingdom and head of the delegation, highlighted the United Kingdom's commitment to promoting and protecting children's rights and upholding the Convention. The implementation of most Covenant articles fell under the power of devolved governments, crown dependencies and overseas territories. There were differences in the implementation of the Convention across the different jurisdictions, but all were unanimously committed to upholding children's rights.
In preparing the report, extensive consultation was conducted with 5,000 children to understand their perspectives and ensure their voices were reflected.
There had been important global and domestic developments in the United Kingdom since the last dialogue in 2016. The COVID-19 pandemic had had a significant impact on all children, especially vulnerable children. Families were facing economic pressures due to the rising cost of living created by the war in Ukraine. There had also been an increase in unaccompanied asylum-seeking children crossing the Channel, facilitated by criminal gangs. The United Kingdom was taking measures to prevent such exploitation of children. Ms. Langdale said the rights and best interests of the child were protected through domestic legislation, which remained unchanged after the United Kingdom's withdrawal from the European Union.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, the State had acted swiftly across all sectors to help minimise the impact of the pandemic on children, with additional targeted action for children identified. The State had ensured education facilities remained open for vulnerable children. Targeted plans to support catch-up learning during the pandemic had been implemented by the Governments of the United Kingdom, Wales and Scotland.
In August last year, in response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, the Government had introduced the eligible minors' scheme, enabling children under the age of 18 to come to the United Kingdom without a parent or guardian. The Government was increasing financial support for parents claiming universal credit in response to the cost-of-living crisis. Over eight million households would receive additional cost-of-living payments this year and the energy price guarantee would further alleviate pressures on struggling families.
The Government was also focusing on families. It was investing over a billion pounds, including through a three-year “family hubs and start for life” programme. The “flying start” programme in Wales provided targeted provisions, including enhanced health visiting and parenting support for families in the most disadvantaged areas. The existing 30 hours free childcare offer to children aged from nine months to three years had been expanded. In both Wales and Scotland, childcare offers had also been expanded.
The Government had published an ambitious strategy for children's social care in February. It set out plans for making sure children in care had stable, loving homes and opportunities for a good life. The strategy was backed by 200 million pounds of additional investment. The Scottish Government had invested 500 million pounds to improve holistic family support and support for care leavers.
In March 2023, the United Kingdom Government had published an improvement plan on its special educational needs and disabilities and alternative provision. This would ensure children with disabilities received the right support in the right place at the right time. Supporting measures had also been implemented in Scotland and Guernsey.
In 2020, the Northern Ireland Executive published their children and young people strategy. Despite the absence of a power-sharing Executive for four out of the last six years, this represented significant progress in developing a comprehensive approach to improve the lives of children.
Other important developments over the reporting period included increasing the age of marriage to 18 in England and Wales; the increased age of criminal responsibility from eight to 12 in Scotland; the extension of voting rights in Wales and Scotland to children aged 16 and I7; and changes in Jersey, Wales and Scotland to prohibit the use of physical punishment. There had also been significant developments in devolved and overseas territories, including the extension of the Convention and the two Optional Protocols on the sale of children and on children in armed conflict to Guernsey and Alderney in 2020, and the Optional Protocols to the Ilse of Man in April 2023; the incorporation of the Convention and the two Optional Protocols in Scottish law; in Wales, the enshrining of children's rights under the rights of children and young persons (males) measure; and a review on outstanding reservations to the Convention in the overseas territories. In 2021, the United Kingdom Government had also ratified the Lanzarote Convention.
Questions by Committee Experts
BRAGI GUDBRANDSSON, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for the United Kingdom, commended the Scottish Government for its bill incorporating the Convention. Legal amendments were needed to apply the bill, however. Why was there a delay in this matter? What had been done to develop similar legislation in other territories? Had the Government of the United Kingdom considered withdrawing its reservation to the Optional Protocol on the sale of children and ratifying the Optional Protocol on the communications procedure? What efforts had been made to bring all existing legislation in line with the Convention? Could information on the bill of rights for Northern Ireland be provided? What measures were in place to ensure that the new bill of rights would maintain all the protections for children contained within existing legislation? What steps had been taken to conduct assessments of the impact of the withdrawal from the European Union on children’s rights?
The Committee had previously called on the United Kingdom to establish a statutory body for implementing the Convention. What steps had been taken to achieve this? Was the State implementing a child rights-based approach in budgeting measures?
Multiple programmes for children would reportedly be negatively affected by budget changes in Northern Ireland. States parties should not allow existing rights of children to deteriorate. Were children involved in decision-making processes related to such measures?
Did all Children’s Commissions have the necessary funding to carry out their mandates? Which bodies received complaints from children in schools, foster care settings and medical institutes? How did the State raise awareness about complaints mechanisms and the Convention?
What measures were in place to adopt a child rights-based approach in respect to trade policy?
The Committee was delighted by the actions of Scotland, Wales and Guernsey to prevent corporal punishment. Had progress been made in other territories?
The Committee was concerned about reports of the restraints and pain-inducing devises used on children in institutional settings. What regulations on the use of such devices were in place, and how were such practices monitored?
The Government had previously expressed a goal of preventing sexual abuse of children, and studies on the issue had been carried out. The Barnahus model was being implemented in some territories. Would the Government introduce measures to speed up the process? Would the Government consider making the Barnahus model the default for its response to sexual abuse? What support was provided to victims of female genital mutilation?
One Committee Expert took note of progress made in addressing the age of marriage. What was the timeline for increasing the age of marriage to 18 in all territories?
Age discrimination was a serious problem in the State. What interventions had been made to address negative stereotypes about young people? Children from minority groups were commonly victims of discrimination. What measures were in place to protect these children? A commendable plan was in place to promote “an inclusive Britain”. What progress had this made, including in addressing discrimination in schools?
Child mortality rates had increased in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Why was this? Did the State party solicit the views of children when developing and merging policies?
Another Committee Expert said children born to migrant parents who had lived in the State for 20 years or more had access to nationality. The process for applying for nationality was complicated and expensive. Were changes to the system planned? The Nationality and Borders Act of 2022 gave the executive branch the power to deprive citizens of their nationality. What was the State party’s position on this?
What measures were in place to address bullying and hate crimes against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children? The “Prevent” strategy aimed to stop children from joining terrorist organizations. Some reports claimed that the programme was negatively affecting the freedom of children, particularly Muslim children targeted by the programme. What was the State’s position on this?
There were reports that planned changes to legislation would impact children’s right to freedom of assembly. Some children had been threatened with detention for participating in climate strikes. Ethnic minorities were reportedly disproportionately targeted by police stops and searches. Could the State party comment on this?
What measures were in place to support digital literacy for young people?
Reports indicated that more investment was needed in family interventions. Spending on children’s services had decreased in recent years. Were there plans to increase funding for State-subsidised childcare? Childcare caused significant financial strain on working families. How was the State addressing this issue?
There were concerns about children deprived of liberty in institutional settings. There was a lack of data on the numbers of children deprived of liberty. Were there child-friendly mechanisms for children to lodge complaints of abuse? In Jersey, there was a reported lack of support for care leavers. When would the long-delayed adoption of the children bill be adopted? What measures were in place to protect the rights of children and incarcerated parents?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said the principles of the Convention were implemented by legislation such as the Children’s Act. The United Kingdom had carefully considered ratification of the Optional Protocol on the communications procedure but believed that domestic mechanisms were sufficient for children to make complaints concerning their rights.
The rights of the child were not affected by the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. Relevant domestic legislation remained in force. The Equality Commission and Human Rights Commission for Northern Ireland had been given additional powers to monitor the process and report any breaches of the Convention. The Government applied child rights impact assessments when reviewing and developing legislation and policies. These assessments had scrutinised the Government’s “homes built on love” policy and policies implemented during the pandemic, including social care system revisions.
The United Kingdom prioritised children and families in its budgeting decisions. Additional funding had been announced for the core school budget, childcare budget, and the special needs and disability system. The impacts of spending decisions on protected groups and families were assessed and children were consulted in the budgeting procedure.
All businesses in the United Kingdom were expected to comply with international human rights principles, including in the management of supply chains. The central government, businesses and suppliers were working to tackle modern slavery.
Children’s Commissioners monitored the protection of children’s rights. They had the power to carry out investigations of complaints and monitor institutions. The Commissioners were independent and had used their powers to conduct investigations of children’s homes and other institutions.
A bill on the incorporation of the Convention into Scottish law had been returned to Parliament. The Government was taking time to improve the legislation to mitigate the risk of future challenges to it. An implementation board consulted with children and provided the Government with guidance on implementing the Convention.
Welsh Ministers had a duty to promote public awareness of the Convention. The children and young people plan had been established to promote the rights of children and young people and raise awareness of the Convention in Wales. A Convention monitoring group had been established in Wales. Wales conducted children’s rights impact assessments and had published over 200 such assessments. It was working with children to publish a plan for engaging with young people in budgeting processes.
A children and young people’s strategy was adopted by the Northern Ireland Executive in 2023. Through this, the Northern Ireland Government would work to improve the situation of children and young people. A three-year implementation and monitoring plan had been drafted for the strategy.
The new Secretary of State for Justice was updating human rights laws, including laws on the rights of children. Various children’s groups had been consulted in developing the bill of rights.
The Government had taken action to stop child marriage. The Minimum Age Act increased the minimum age for marriage from 16 to 18 and extended forced marriage legislation. Consultations on raising the age of marriage in the devolved territories was ongoing. Scotland was gathering views on whether the minimum age of marriage should be increased from 16 to 18 years. There was a legislative project on reforming marriage laws in the Isle of Man to raise the age of consent to 18. The age of marriage in most overseas territories was 18. The Saint Helena Government reportedly had no plans to raise the age to 18, but the United Kingdom Government would continue to consult with it on this matter.
The Government was committed to addressing negative public attitudes towards children. Protections against discrimination were provided to all children. The child rights impact assessment was an important tool for preventing discrimination of children. It was possible to challenge Government decisions in domestic courts. The Human Rights Commission and Children’s Commissions monitored discrimination of children. Guidance was issued to schools to ensure that hair policies did not discriminate.
The United Kingdom Youth Parliament, among other measures, enabled youth participation. Children were consulted in the reform process for the social care system. The Government aimed to create a children and young people’s advisory board for the programme. Children were also included in the national family justice board.
The child mortality rate was 10.3 per 100,000 in the 2018 to 2020 period. This was a small decrease from the previous period and a large decrease from the 2012 level. The Government continued to study best practices on decreasing mortality rates. Work was underway to develop a mental health strategy, including consultations with children.
In 2015, a consultation was held to extend protection from discrimination on the grounds of age in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, this work was not progressed due to the collapse of the Executive. Northern Ireland hoped to continue deliberations in the future. Civil society and health organizations had carried out initiatives to tackle negative stereotypes of youth in Northern Ireland.
A new bill had been prepared to reduce timelines for the gender recognition process in Scotland. The bill was passed in Scottish Parliament but had not reached Royal Accent. Scottish Ministers had lodged a petition regarding this bill’s adoption.
The Government of the United Kingdom was working with overseas territories to implement legislation to protect children from discrimination. A public feeding programme had been launched in all schools in Anguilla, and a programme had been launched to prevent discrimination of Haitian persons.
The Nationality and Borders Act allowed for the deprivation of citizenship for limited reasons. There were safeguards to ensure that such decisions were not made in isolation. Appeals against citizenship decisions could be lodged. The rights of the child needed to be considered in all citizenship decisions. Cases balanced the rights of the child with national security concerns. The law complied with the United Nations Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness. Fees for registering for British citizenship were waived for children in State care.
“Prevent” remained a vital tool for diverting children from dangerous ideologies. There had been an independent review of “Prevent” and the Government was taking on board recommendations, including implementing an independent review mechanism.
The Government had updated legislation on public order policing. This legislation protected the right to freedom of expression and public assembly. The online safety bill was progressing through Parliament. It provided strong protections for young people against damaging online content. Standards were set for the police force on the appropriate use of force and the use of less-lethal technologies. Stops and searches should not target specific racial groups. Body cameras were used to oversee stops and searches and the use of force of police officers.
Individuals could not be stopped and searched because of their age. All searches carried out in Scotland were overseen by the Scottish Police Authority.
Questions by Committee Experts
One Committee Expert said families with children with disabilities were more likely to face poverty than other families; 41 per cent of families with children with disabilities reportedly lived in poverty. How would the United Kingdom ensure that families with children with disabilities were supported to lower poverty rates? There were long waiting times for early detention services in Wales. What measures were in place to decrease these? How did the State ensure that children with disabilities were consulted with in all decisions affecting them?
BRAGI GUDBRANDSSON, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for the United Kingdom, said the Committee was concerned about the availability of paediatric services. There was a need to expand health services available to asylum-seeking children. Were there plans to appeal regulations hindering access for migrants? There were long waiting times for transgender children for health services. Was the State addressing this? What had the outcomes of recent health policies been? There was a lack of access to mental health services. Civil society had recommended that key mental health services needed to be delivered in the school environment. Did the State intend to reform the Mental Health Act? What strategies to decrease the use of psychotropic drugs were in place?
High rates of homelessness and high heating costs were also concerning. What policies supporting access to housing and heating for homeless children were in place? How was the State working to improve children’s access to a healthy environment?
Another Committee Expert expressed concern regarding equal access to education in the State’s territories. Black, Roma and asylum-seeking children had lower enrolment rates and lower performance in schools than other groups. What were the root causes of this? Could disaggregated data on absenteeism be provided?
Had the State party been retrofitting schools and training teachers to ensure the inclusion of children with disabilities in mainstream education? The Committee welcomed the Government’s policies supporting development in the first two years of life. In overseas territories, early childhood education was reportedly only available to the wealthy. Would the State party address this? Schools were reportedly hiding the existence of students who had dropped out. What measures were in place to prevent this? Was teacher training provided to identify and prevent bullying?
The Committee Expert commended the State party for its legislative attempts to create a multicultural, multi-racial society. Children were not being taught about this legislation. How was the State promoting it? Wales had implemented a commendable “play policy”? There were reportedly problems with access to leisure spaces and funding for the project. Would additional funding be devoted to implementing the project? How did the State promote participation in leisure in schools?
Was the pending illegal immigration bill legal? It appeared to violate the Convention and prevent all children from attaining asylum. Was the bill suggesting that children escaping war zones could not obtain asylum? Would the State party implement a mechanism for children to challenge the age assessment process?
The United Kingdom had a far lower age of criminal responsibility than the global average. The Expert called on the State party to reconsider this, as well as the use of solitary confinement in detention facilities against children. There was one case of a 15-year-old child held in an adult prison in Jersey. Would the State party reconsider its legislation on life imprisonment?
One Expert welcomed the planned online safety bill, which prevented children from accessing harmful content. What was the timeframe for adopting this bill? Work on the Anti-Slavery Act was also slow. What progress had been made?
In 2021 and 2022, the British Armed Forces recruited over 2,000 children. The numbers of recruited children were increasing. Army recruits under 18 were required to serve for two years longer than recruited adults. Were there efforts to change this? Did the State party ensure that parental permission was obtained for all child recruitments? What efforts had been made to repatriate children in northern Syria?
When did Scotland expect to reach a decision on revising the age of marriage? How did the State ensure that its mental health policy focused on both prevention and care?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said programmes targeting groups vulnerable to violence were estimated to have prevented over 100,000 cases of violence against children. Fifty million pounds had been invested in education to prevent violence, and 36 million pounds had been invested in strengthening youth justice. A domestic abuse action plan and fund had been set up to prevent the practice and support victims. The “Lighthouse” system had been modelled on the Barnahus system. “Lighthouses” provided comprehensive support to victims of sexual violence, and funding of lighthouses had been strengthened.
A mandatory reporting duty had been introduced for female genital mutilation. There had been over 3,000 forced marriage protection orders and over 700 female genital mutilation protection orders over the reporting period. A committee was in place to implement the Lanzarote Convention. The State party released quarterly statistics on modern slavery. The State party was also working with G-7 partners to strengthen online protections for children in these States.
On the issue of restraints, safeguards had been implemented since 2016 to protect children. Restraints should be used only as a last resort. State officials ensured that force was used proportionately. There were 4,041 incidences of restraint in 2021 to 2022. The Government was committed to preventing the use of pain-inducing restraints. Thorough investigations of complaints of abuse were carried out by an independent review panel.
Scotland provided child-centred, trauma-informed specialist services for child victims of violence. The Scottish Government was developing a local Barnahus system. Over three million pounds had been invested in the Scottish guardianship system since 2010. This year, a statutory unaccompanied children guardianship system had been implemented to support child victims of trafficking.
Work was progressing in Northern Ireland to implement a Barnahus model. Work was also progressing on a draft strategy to end violence against women and girls. A behaviour management technique and body cameras were introduced in Northern Ireland institutions in 2017. Restraints were used only 10 times in 2022.
In Northern Ireland, work was underway to develop an early learning and childcare strategy to promote child development. The Adoption Act in Northern Ireland had been approved. It aligned legislation on adoption with the Convention. Implementation would occur over the next five years. The Isle of Man had approved a childcare strategy that aimed to improve access to early education. Supports were being introduced for children with special education needs. A universal credit would be provided to cover preschool costs for each eligible child. Children were placed in protection off-island in rare cases in Jersey when local care was not available. The State paid for parents to visit their children in off-island care. Care-leavers were provided with follow-up counselling services.
The “family help” programme had been created to provide in-home help for families with children with disabilities. The State was ensuring that each child in need had access to a social worker. It planned to increase its social workforce by 500 persons and decrease reliance on private sector social workers.
Children should only be deprived of their liberty as a last resort. Children’s homes were regularly inspected. There were not enough placements to meet the needs of all children; 21 million pounds had been invested in increasing capacity in the community. A commission was in place to examine deprivation of liberty cases and propose measures for improving care for children.
There were disparities in the poverty rates of children with disabilities and other children. The poverty rate for children with disabilities was 35 per cent on a relative basis. The United Kingdom had a financial support programme for children with disabilities. Benefits were tax-free. The Government was increasing the amount of payments for children with mental health issues. The number of recipients had increased to 45,000. The Government had been collecting a large range of data on factors relating to child poverty.
During the pandemic, the Government had increased the national living wage and benefits for parents seeking work. The number of children in workless households had decreased by 200,000 since 2010. Families with children were given priority in the provision of affordable and social housing. The Government was investing 11 billion pounds over five years in affordable and public housing. Extra funding had been provided to local authorities to prevent homelessness through temporary housing and rental arrears. The Scottish and Welsh Governments also had strategies in place to address poverty and access to affordable housing.
Several million pounds had been invested in mental health to increase the capacity of the mental health services to support young people; 79 million pounds had been invested during the COVID-19 pandemic to increase mental health and other support services in schools and colleges. The Government aimed to reduce the waiting time for mental health services to four weeks. Mental health support teams provided early interventions in schools. The National Health Service provided free healthcare to lawfully settled residents. Some groups were exempt from being charged, included persons seeking asylum and refugees. Annual referrals to gender identity services had increased significantly, leading to long waiting times. A review of these services had been conducted. Following this, services would be transformed to establish regional hubs to increase access to gender identity services. The delegation also presented measures to address childhood obesity, air quality, major diseases and breastfeeding rates.
The National Health Service was developing a policy proposing that sex realignment surgery should not be available under the Service unless the individual gave consent or if emergency help was required.
The United Kingdom Government was building new hospitals in the overseas territories and had introduced a programme for combatting non-communicable diseases.
Abortion had been decriminalised in 2019 in Northern Ireland, and regulations were passed that were in line with the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. Services were offered in a non-commissioned manner until recently. A national abortion service was now being rolled out in Northern Ireland.
Across the State party, serious steps were being taken to ensure that the voices of children with disabilities were heard. In England, local authorities were required to ensure that children with disabilities were able to convey their views and participate. Forums of children with disabilities were consulted on Government policies.
Follow-Up Questions by Committee Experts
One Committee Expert asked how the State party could remove the “non-belonger” status in the overseas territories. The overseas territories in the Caribbean had been devasted by hurricanes. How was the State party assisting children in these territories to adapt to and react to natural disasters?
There was a heavy police presence in schools. Could the State party deal with issues in schools without involving police? Children were subjected to strips and searches, and some such children were held overnight before being released without charge. Black children, Roma and other minorities were reportedly targeted. What steps had been taken to respond to the review of racial profiling practices within the police force?
Asylum-seeking children were placed in hotels, which some children disappeared from, placing them as risk of trafficking. Were there plans to reform this? In Northern Ireland, there were unauthorised admission tests in schools. This needed to be reviewed.
BRAGI GUDBRANDSSON, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for the United Kingdom, said that there was a long period between forensic interviews and cross-examinations in “Lighthouses”. Were there plans to review this? Only 29 per cent of survivors of domestic violence were reportedly able to access support. What measures were in place to increase this rate? Only four per cent of domestic child abuse cases reportedly were punitively charged. This was too low. The use of tasers against children had reportedly increased. Were there measures to decrease its use?
Another Committee Expert said the placement of children in alternative care in different territories was reportedly a common practice. What support measures were in place across the State party?
One Committee Expert commended the Government of the United Kingdom for its work at the international level to end violence against children. Was there an adequate data-sharing body on violence against children? Was there a process to remove children from hotels when there were concerns about their well-being?
A Committee Expert asked how the State party made communities aware of the law on female genital mutilation.
Another Committee Expert said the figures on poverty and mental health were very concerning. How did the Government keep track of children in poverty and with mental health issues? How many children with disabilities were poor and how many suffered from mental health issues?
One Committee Expert asked about lengths of solitary confinement for children. What complaints mechanisms were in place? The fact that there was a robust judicial system in place was not an adequate reason for not ratifying the third Optional Protocol. What measures were in place in Northern Ireland to support integrated education?
A Committee Expert asked about steps taken to protect children removed from their families. To what extent were the children themselves consulted and their opinions considered?
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said schools would receive two billion pounds of extra funding in 2023 to support recovery from COVID-19. Targeted interventions were being made to improve educational performance for Roma children and other minorities. The pandemic had exacerbated issues such as bullying and school attendance. Relationships education had been made compulsory. This aimed to tackle bullying and promote mutual respect. Schools were required to take proactive steps to eliminate discrimination of protected groups. There were five anti-bullying associations that provided support to schools to prevent bullying. Permanent exclusion was used only as a last resort. Parents were able to challenge exclusion decisions at an independent review panel. The Government was committed to reducing the use of force in schools.
Mainstream education was provided for all children with disabilities whose parents requested their participation. The Government had devised a plan to improve attainment levels for children with disabilities and strengthen teachers’ abilities to meet such children’s needs. Every school in England had a disability coordinator.
The delegation presented anti-bullying measures implemented in schools in Wales, Scotland, Guernsey and Alderney, Northern Ireland, Saint Helena and the Cayman Islands.
In Wales, free school meals were being rolled out at pace. Forty million pounds had been invested in making play areas more accessible.
A programme supporting Roma children’s educational attainment was in place in Scotland. Ninety-five per cent of children with disabilities were educated in mainstream education in Scotland. The education outcomes of children with disabilities were improving. All primary school pupils benefited from free meals, which saved families 400 pounds per year. The Government was increasing the scope of delivery of free school meals. Campus officers promoted positive interaction between young people and the community.
Integrated schools were available for children with disabilities in Northern Ireland, regulated by the Integrated Schools Act. The Government was identifying demand for integrated education and implementing measures to address it. An independent expert panel had been set up to examine root causes of disparities in educational achievement and develop policies for improving educational performance. Several policies had been implemented to support early education performance.
The proposed illegal migration bill was subject to parliamentary scrutiny. There was nothing in the bill that breached the State party’s international obligations. The bill did not promote refoulement. Responding to dangerous sea crossings was a priority for the State party. The aim of the bill was to make these unnecessary journeys completely unviable. The United Kingdom would make efforts to ensure that it remained a haven for the most vulnerable. The Secretary of State would not be required to remove unaccompanied children until after they turned 18.
Under the illegal migration bill, any requests for asylum by children who had passed through safe countries would be declared inadmissible. Unaccompanied children who arrived illegally would be provided with temporary accommodation and support, but would not be allowed to stay permanently. The age assessment process safeguarded and promoted the welfare of children. Reforms sought to improve the consistency of age assessments. Temporary hotels were used to house asylum seekers, but the Government sought to end the use of these hotels. When children went missing, multiple agencies worked together to search for them. The Government provided a safe route for families to reunite. Over 4,000 family reunion visas were provided in 2022.
In England and Wales, the age of criminal responsibility was 10. This age was suitable to local circumstances. Only four per cent of the youth population in custody was aged between 10 and 14 in 2021 and 2022. The age of criminal responsibility in Scotland had been raised from eight to 12. There had been public consultations on raising the age of criminal responsibility in Northern Ireland from 10. There were circumstances where a custodial sentence was unavoidable. Courts could impose a life sentence on children for crimes such as murder. Life sentences were eligible for review at the mid-way point to the minimum term.
Ethnic minorities were overrepresented in the youth justice system. The Government was reforming education, health and policing to promote equality. Custodial remand for children was only used when necessary. Community-based interventions were used to promote restorative justice. Independent advocates were available for children subject to restrictive interventions.
Jersey had a facility that provided secure accommodation for children in conflict with the law. The most recent Care Commission report of the facility noted improvements in support of the young people it housed.
Applicants under the age of 18 were only accepted into the armed forces with the written consent of a legal guardian. Individuals could voluntarily leave the armed forces and were provided with support in accessing education or employment. Sexual offences were not tolerated in the armed forces. An independent serious crimes unit had been established to investigate crimes occurring anywhere in the world. Suicide was a rare event in the armed forces. Rates were lower than in the general population. A strategy to prevent suicide in the armed forces had been established.
Tasers were only used against children as a last resort. The State invested in the violence against children partnership to tackle the phenomenon internationally.
BRAGI GUDBRANDSSON, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Country Taskforce for the United Kingdom, said that the dialogue had been constructive and rewarding. There were many excellent programmes in the State party to implement the Convention. However, there were areas where reform was needed, including in legislation implementing the Convention and coordination mechanisms for monitoring the implementation of the Convention, among the many other topics discussed in the dialogue. The Committee had benefitted from the insights of civil society members and children who had provided information to the Committee. The Committee would seriously work to draw up the best possible concluding observations to promote the rights of children in the United Kingdom.
SOPHIE LANGDALE, Director of Strategy and Care System, Department for Education of the United Kingdom and head of the delegation, expressed thanks to all members of the Committee for their insightful questions and for the recommendations to be provided in the concluding observations. The Committee had indicated areas where further work was needed to protect and promote children’s rights. The State was committed to continuous review and to improving children’s outcomes. It would work with all territories to develop plans to implement the Convention and the Committee’s recommendations. The State party would also engage with children on the Committee’s concluding observations. Ms. Langdale closed by thanking all persons who had contributed to the dialogue.
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