Publishing her ‘UK Withdrawal from the EU - Overview of the Potential Impact on Children in Northern Ireland’ paper, Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People said, “The fact that NI has had no formal role or position in the negotiation process has resulted in an even greater potential for Brexit to negatively impact the lives of children and young people, especially if it is a ‘no-deal’ scenario”
The paper sets out a number of areas where the UK Government can act to protect the rights, best interests and outcomes for children in Northern Ireland to help them live healthy, full and decent lives post ‘Brexit’.
Koulla said, “While there has been much debate around the economy, industry and the impact on goods and services, there has been less focus by government on the effect on human rights generally or the impact on children and young people specifically.”
Protecting Children’s Rights
“The UK Government and any future NI Assembly must make arrangements to ensure there are no differences to the rights, opportunities and benefits between young people who identify as Irish and young people who identify as British, as is their right to do so under the Good Friday Agreement. Current arrangements would mean those who hold an Irish passport may be afforded more rights as European citizens” said the Commissioner.
‘Brexit’ will result in the loss of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights which places an obligation on EU member states to adhere to children’s rights standards when implementing relevant laws.
Koulla continued, “They must also act to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law to counteract this loss of protections.”
Freedom of Movement
Children and young people cross the border every day to spend time with friends and family (particularly in cases of separated families), to go shopping, socialise and for leisure activities. Children living in border areas are currently able to access healthcare and other services closest to them, irrespective of what side of the border they happen to live on and approximately 2000 children and young people and 300 teachers travel across the border to attend, or teach in, schools or colleges every day.
Koulla said, “Children must not be required to travel longer distances to receive vital care because of Brexit. All Island networks such as the Congenital Heart Disease Network must continue and further co-operation in other areas must be encouraged in the best interests of our children.
“There must be no border arrangements across Ireland or between GB and NI that compromises the best interests of our children and young people or their future opportunities to live, study and work on either side of the border or across Europe.”
There are approximately 80 EU instruments which entitle children to protection and welfare including from trafficking, abduction, exploitation and product safety.
“While the UK Government announced its intention to agree an “ambitious” new security treaty, the PSNI Chief Constable last month stated he feels ‘isolated’ and ‘in the dark’ in preparing for Brexit and is ‘400 officers short of what is needed to deal with current demands’.
“NI’s land border inevitably exposes vulnerabilities to child abductions, child exploitation, children going missing, and/or being trafficked to and through NI. Any security treaty must maintain the current levels of protections for children and must be adequately resourced”, she said.
On child poverty, the Commissioner said “Poverty has obvious effects on our children’s educational outcomes, physical and mental health, yet approximately 118,000 children currently live in relative poverty here.”
The Institute for Fiscal studies predicts child poverty will increase by 7% between 2015 and 2022.
Koulla continued, “This could increase even further because of the potential effect of the loss of EU funding streams such as the CAP subsidies, and the UK leaving the Customs Union and Single Market which may adversely impact the material wellbeing of increased numbers of children and young people.”
“There must be a formal commitment for continued financial and other support for economically disadvantaged communities and those currently relying to a large extent, on EU funding such as farming families.”
The Commissioner’s office has been made aware of many EU/EEA nationals facing anxiety, uncertainly and increasing prejudice. It has also been informed that some newcomer children are disengaging from education and other services as they believe they will be deported following Brexit.
The Commissioner concluded, “It is imperative the UK government takes proactive measures to protect children from any negative effects of ‘Brexit’. It is also vital that they communicate effectively with the public on the final “deal” and its likely implications. Such communication must include child-accessible information.”
Notes to Editors
- For further information or to bid for interviews with the Commissioner contact the NICCY Communications Team, 02890 311616, 07917 544 177, email@example.com
- You can read the ‘UK Withdrawal from the EU - Overview of the Potential Impact on Children in Northern Ireland’ paper here.
- The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) was created in accordance with ‘The Commissioner for Children and Young People (Northern Ireland) Order’ (2003) to safeguard and promote the rights and best interests of children and young people in Northern Ireland. Under Articles 7(2) and (3) of this legislation, NICCY has a mandate to keep under review the adequacy and effectiveness of law, practice and services relating to the rights and best interests of children and young people by relevant authorities. Under Article 7(4), NICCY has a statutory duty to advise any relevant authority on matters concerning the rights or best interests of children and young persons. The Commissioner’s remit includes children and young people from birth up to 18 years, or 21 years, if the young person has a disability or is/has been in the care of social services. In carrying out her functions, the Commissioner’s paramount consideration is the rights of the child or young person, having particular regard to their wishes and feelings. In exercising her functions, the Commissioner has to have regard to all relevant articles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) - the most comprehensive, inclusive Human Rights Treaty covering as it does, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.