1 Mar 2007

Statement from Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Children’s Commissioner for England, Maria Battle, Acting Children’s Commissioner for Wales, Patricia Lewsley, Children’s Commissioner for Northern Ireland and Kathleen Marshall, Children’s Commissioner for Scotland. 

“This consultation process provides an opportunity for all those striving to protect the rights and best interests of children to challenge the UK’s unsympathetic, sceptical and insensitive approach to children seeking asylum alone. We hope these proposals will be carefully scrutinised against the benchmark of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to ensure that this group are not excluded from the care, consideration and protection to which all children and young people are entitled.

“Children and young people separated from their families and seeking asylum alone are extremely vulnerable - many have experienced torture and ill-treatment in their home countries. While the Commissioners acknowledge the right of Government to protect our borders from abuse of the immigration system we feel that these proposals represent a significant shift to treating young people as suspect immigrants rather than children first and foremost.

“Overall these proposals will make it harder for children to seek protection in the UK, restrict their entitlements while here, including access to education, and speed up their removal with little regard for their best interests. The historic failure of the asylum determination system to properly account for separated children’s protection needs mean that these proposals presents a high risk strategy which jeopardises the Government’s commitment to safeguarding children.

“The suggested removal of current avenues of support for those turning18 through employment, the benefits system and leaving care provision under children’s legislation will have a trickle down effect. This will lead to children and young people disappearing from the care system and feeling that they have no option but to turn to those who will exploit them sexually or economically.

“By co-opting social workers into acting as the soft arm of the immigration service the bond of trust between children and their carers will be broken. There will be fewer and fewer places for separated children and young people to turn to for guidance and support.

“The proposals on handling age disputes display a greater concern with preventing adults abusing the system designed for children than the more pressing issue of the dangers to the over 1000 children each year inappropriately treated as adults. Our research has identified age assessment as the single most difficult issue affecting unaccompanied young people seeking asylum and we therefore support the recognition of the need to review the current age determination process. However, along with the Royal College of Paediatricians we oppose the introduction of dental and other X-ray testing as ineffective and invasive. The accuracy of these methods in determining age is unproven and many young people seeking asylum will not have the necessary levels of understanding to be able to give their informed consent to being subjected to such procedures.

ENDS 

Notes to Editors:

  • The Children’s Commissioner for England was established under The Children Act 2004 to be the independent voice of children and young people and to champion their interests and bring their concerns and views to the national arena.
  • The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People is Patricia Lewsley, you can fine out more information on the work of the Commissioner here on the web site
  • Scotland’s Commissioner for Children and Young People was created by an Act of the Scottish Parliament in 2003 and Commissioner, Kathleen Marshall, began work in April 2004. She is independent of both the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish Executive. The Commissioner’s basic remit is to promote and safeguard the rights of children and young people, with particular emphasis on the rights set out in the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. She also monitors the law, policy and practice for effectiveness in relation to the rights of children and young people, promotes best practice by service providers working with children.
  • The Children’s Commissioner for Wales was established in 2001 as an independent body to safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of children and young people.
  • The Children’s Commissioner for England works closely with the Children’s Commissioners in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, specifically on non-devolved issues to promote awareness of the views and interests of children and young people across the UK.

MEDIA ENQUIRIES

England: Beccy Earnshaw on 05511 437 861 or 0844 800 9113 or 07920 765 454

Beccy.earnshaw@childrenscommissioner.org

Scotland: Gordon Brown on 0131 558 3733 or 07917 815 777 or     gordon.brown@sccyp.org.uk

Wales: Sara Reid on 01792 765600 or 07816 759339 or       sara@childcomwales.org.uk