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The United Nations committee of international experts in children’s rights has made a series of recommendations to the UK Government following a recent examination.

The recommendations by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) included many relating to our everyday – economic, social and cultural – rights, which we submitted evidence on; and echoes many of the issues raised in the independent civil society report we submitted to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The committee made major economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) recommendations including relating to the impact on children of the UK leaving the EU, children experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage, discrimination experienced by LGBT+ children and young people, and action the UK Government should take to ensure all children in the UK have their right to an adequate standard of living.

Our analysis of the recommendations can be found below.

The UK Government signed, ratified and so agreed to be legally bound by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (‘the Convention’) in 1991. The Convention contains a whole host of economic, social and cultural rights (ESCR) including health, social security, adequate standard of living and rest and leisure (including play). The review by the UNCRC is based on this Convention, and marking how well or badly the UK Government is meeting the rights it contains. The review process provides an important and authoritative evaluation of how the UK is doing in terms of children’s rights and what we can do to improve.

Because the Convention contains so many ESCR, we were keen to be involved in the review, and were one of a number of organisations who submitted evidence to the civil society report for England, organised by the Children’s Rights Alliance England (CRAE). This report was sent to the UNCRC to help inform their review.

On 2 June, the UNCRC published its final report on the review of the UK Government’s progress on realising the rights of children and young people. The report, known as the ‘Concluding Observations’ makes around 200 recommendations for ways the UK Government can improve.

During the review the UNCRC heard from civil society, national human rights institutions and various government representatives. The UNCRC’s recommendations represent expert advice on how the UK Government can do better.

In 2022 we submitted evidence to the UNCRC through the CRAE report on two key issues:

  • The impact on the rights and equalities of children and young people as a consequence of the UK’s exit from the EU.
  • The potential of the Socio-economic Duty (the Duty) to address historic and structural socio-economic inequalities and their negative effects on human rights.

We are therefore pleased to see that the UNCRC made a specific recommendation that the UK Government should,

“Assess the impact of the State party’s withdrawal from the European Union on the enjoyment of children’s rights.”

We believe that undergoing a child’s rights impact assessment of the trajectory the UK has taken since withdrawing from the EU would reveal the impact that has already taken place on the rights of children and young people.

In addition, the UNCRC also raised the issue of children and young people experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage throughout the report, including:

  • Implementing policies and programmes to eliminate discrimination based on socioeconomic disadvantage.
  • Ensuring affordable (including free) childcare for those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage.
  • Developing a strategy to address health inequalities, including for children experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage.
  • Strengthening measures to address inequalities in educational attainment and outcomes for children, including those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage.
  • Strengthening measures to ensure that all children, including those experiencing socioeconomic disadvantage, have access to accessible, safe, public outdoor play spaces.
  • Prohibiting all forms of advertising and marketing for military service targeted at children, in particular at schools and targeting children belonging to ethnic minority groups and socioeconomically disadvantaged children.
  • Strengthening and improving data collection.

The UNCRC made several interesting and powerful recommendations on legislation and budgeting. The Committee recommended that the UK Government:

  • Strengthens efforts to fully incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of Children (including by enacting the UNCRC Bill in Scotland).
  • Reconsiders the decision to replace the Human Rights Act.
  • Develops mandatory child-rights impact assessment procedures for legislation and policies relevant to children in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
  • Incorporates a child rights-based approach into the State budgeting process. Introduce budgetary allocations for children in disadvantaged situations and ensure that children are not affected by austerity measures.

Taken together, these recommendations could have a significant impact not only on how legislation is formulated, but also by ensuring that at every step of the way, decision makers are considering the impact of their choices on the rights of children.

In addition, there is a recommendation to establish a minister for children, responsible for ensuring the effective monitoring and coordination of all activities related to the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This would powerfully add to the above legislative changes.

We were one of over 50 organisations who joined CRAE’s call before the review for the UK Government to develop a Child Rights Action Plan and appoint a cabinet minister for children. We believe this could make a real impact to the realisation of children’s rights and are glad the UNCRC has added their significant support to this call.

The UNCRC expressed deep concern about the large number of children living in poverty, food insecurity, and homelessness in the UK.

In their recommendations the UNCRC highlighted particular action the UK Government should take to ensure all children in the UK have their right to an adequate standard of living realised:

  • Increase social benefits to reflect the rising cost of living.
  • Abolish the two-child limit and benefit cap for social security benefits.
  • Address the root causes of homelessness among children.
  • Strengthen measures to phase out temporary and “contingency” accommodation schemes.
  • Significantly increase the availability of adequate and long-term social housing for families in need.
  • Ensure that measures to combat poverty comply with a child rights-based approach.

These proposals and concerns echo many of the issues we raised in the independent civil society report we recently submitted to the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. It is good to note that the matter has also been highlighted by the UNCRC, and concrete, practical recommendations made.

The UNCRC recommendations are strong on climate change and the variety of ways it impacts on children, whether it be taking part in climate activism (exercising their right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly), unsafe levels of air pollution, the particular vulnerability of children in the Overseas Territories to the effects of natural disasters or insufficient measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The recommendations include measures to tackle climate change, but also to educate and prepare children. If followed, these measures could have far reaching positive impacts for children and young people in the UK and beyond.

The UNCRC recommendations are very strong on LGBT+ children and young people, including in terms of:

  • Comprehensive, age-appropriate and evidence-based education on sexual and reproductive health, including education on sexual diversity.
  • Increasing efforts to eliminate discrimination, bullying, and harassment, including against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children, and ensuring children who do experience this receive protection and support.
  • Recognising the right to identity of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children, and put in place measures to ensure that all adolescents enjoy their freedom of expression and respect for their physical and psychological integrity, gender identity and emerging autonomy.
  • Prohibiting the promotion, facilitation and delivery of so-called “conversion therapies” aimed at changing the sexual orientation and gender identity of children.
  • Legally prohibiting non-urgent and non-essential (including feminizing or masculinizing) medical or surgical treatment of intersex children before they are of sufficient age or maturity to make their own decisions.
  • Developing a strategy to address health inequalities, in particular in respect of children in disadvantaged situations including trans children.
  • Urgently addressing the long waiting times faced by trans and gender-questioning children in accessing specialised health services, improve the quality of such services, and ensure that their views are considered in all decisions affecting their treatment.
  • Developing adequately funded mental health services that are tailored to the specific needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex children.
  • Developing guidance for the inclusion of trans and gender-questioning children in schools and ensure that such guidance fully respects their rights, including their rights to identity and to privacy.

This strong line on the rights of LGBT+ people in the UK chimes with the concerns raised by the UN Independent Expert on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity following his recent country visit to the UK (read more here).

In its report, the UNCRC expresses deep concerns about the impact of recent and upcoming legislation in relation to the impact of the rights of children and young people. They recommend the UK:

  • Amends the Nationality and Borders Act of 2022 to ensure that the best interests of the child are taken as a primary consideration in all proceedings related to deprivation of nationality.
  • Amends the Nationality and Borders Act to abolish the designation of “Group 2” status to certain groups of refugee children, and ensure that all asylum-seeking and refugee children, including unaccompanied children, are not criminalized and have access to necessary support and services.
  • Repeals measures in the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and remove provisions in the Public Order Bill which limit children’s rights to participate in protests.
  • Urgently amends the Illegal Migration Bill to repeal all draft provisions that would have the effect of violating children’s rights under the Convention and the 1951 Refugee Convention
  • Amends the Modern Slavery Act to clarify that children can never consent to their own sale or exploitation.
  • Strengthens children’s right to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, including by repealing measures in the Police Crime Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and removing provisions in the Public Order Bill which limit children’s rights to participate in protests.
  • Effectively enforces the prohibition of the use of non-statutory stop-and-search checks against children, prohibit their use in Northern Ireland, and remove provisions from the Public Order Bill that ease restrictions on their use.

When taken together, one can see that these recommendations form a scathing commentary on the recent direction the UK Government has taken in pursuing legislation that undermines human rights and dilutes measures to hold those in power to account.

We have commented on the importance of joining the dots on this concerted attack.   

Next steps – realising children’s rights

The recommendations from the UNCRC form a powerful plan for the realisation of the rights of children and young people in the UK.

They have been made by a group of international children’s rights experts, after the careful consideration of a huge amount of evidence.

We will be working with the children’s rights sector to urge the UK Government not only to implement these recommendations, but ensure they include the voices and opinions of children and young people in the process.