The Conservative government’s policies risk systematically stripping children of their rights, a report for the United Nations has found.
An assessment by the four children’s commissioners of the UK, the first full-scale review for seven years, called on the government to reconsider its deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans to repeal the Human Rights Act.
The commissioners, representing each of the constituent nations of the UK, conducted their review of the state of children’s policies as part of evidence they will present on Wednesday to the UN revealing how much progress has been made under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Many of the government’s decisions are questioned by the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK. England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:
“We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”
In particular there are continuing concerns over the issues of abuse and the impact on children – with 25% of children in the UK exposed to domestic abuse between adults in their homes at some point in childhood. Studies reveal that in family courts “many of the youngest and most vulnerable children are currently not heard”.
Perhaps the most shocking finding is the rise of peer-on-peer domestic abuse among young people. Commissioners say that almost two thirds of “contact sexual abuse of children was perpetrated by other children”.
Longfield said that “over the next five years it will be the case that there will be an enormous number of children through the court system and we need to reflect the need to engage and listen to them in a way that is not happening now”.
The commissioners argue the government’s plans to “break the formal link between British courts and the European Court of Human Rights” by scrapping the Human Rights Act is a backwards step.