In their “report card” to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Children’s Commissioners Koulla Yiasouma, Bruce Adamson and Rocio Cifuentes have warned that while progress has been made in some areas of children’s rights since the last report in 2016, there are urgent issues which must be addressed across a broad range of rights.
They are pushing governments to immediately address the areas in which they are falling short and put children’s rights at the heart of policy, practice and delivery.
Children and young people’s views must be central to decisions affecting them, and the Commissioners have also submitted a report of children’s voices and experiences from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to the UN.
One young person from MENCAP NI, said: ‘Rights build you up so you can be the best you can be”.
Another young person from Northern Ireland said: “How can it be that there are still governments in countries that are made up of adults who ignore the best interests of children when they are making laws and decisions? What hope do they have … if they seek to ignore the needs and wishes of the children in their care?”
All three Commissioners have reiterated calls to governments to do more to protect the rights of children subjected to living in poverty, this includes calls for the social security system to once again become a safety net for children.
Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, said: “Poverty is the tarnished thread that runs through the most egregious breaches of the rights of children and young people in Northern Ireland. A Government, whether in Westminster or Stormont, which wilfully chooses, as historic governments have, not to properly tackle child poverty does not deserve the name.”
The report also highlights the effect stretched mental health services are having on children and young people.
The Commissioner continued: “While I have witnessed some positive moves in the area of mental health, the challenge remains to turn this into tangible actions where children and young people experience better outcomes. The rates of common mental health problems are 25% higher in NI compared to other parts of the UK[i] however, overall spending in Northern Ireland is 27% less than in England.[ii]”
The three Commissioners have outlined deep concerns about the UK Government’s proposed changes to the Human Rights Act, warning they will significantly weaken the protection of children’s rights. Children’s rights are best protected by law and the Commissioners are clear that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) must be incorporated into relevant domestic law.
In the case of Northern Ireland through a Northern Ireland Bill of Rights; the Welsh Government should urgently progress their exploration of full incorporation and provide a clear timetable for this; and the Scottish Government should urgently bring forward the amendments necessary to allow the adoption and enactment of the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill.
Koulla concluded: “The impact of changes to the Human Rights Act cannot be overstated, it is because of this Act, for example, that some of the discriminatory elements of the social security system[iii] have been addressed. Children whose rights have been violated have been able to obtain justice in national courts, rather than having to resort to application to the European Court of Human Rights. Proposals would negatively impact children’s rights and undermine commitments in the Good Friday Agreement.
“Incorporation of the UNCRC into NI domestic law is the most effective way to make sure every child that lives here has the best start in life and is supported throughout their childhood to grow, learn and flourish. The list is long, but not insurmountable, for any government that is serious about prioritising the best interests of children and young people here.”
Notes to Editors
[ii] Consultation on the Draft Mental Health Strategy 2021-2031 | Department of Health (health-ni.gov.uk)
This needs to be a wake-up call to those in power that when the rights…News