Report for UN says British youngsters are 'demonised'

09 JUN 2008

A report condemning the standards of children's rights in the UK will be presented to United Nations inspectors today in a joint submission from the four Children's Commissioners for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The joint report said that public attitudes towards youngsters tend to demonise them and aim to exclude them from public spaces through discriminatory practices.

According to the report, crime committed by children had fallen between 2002 and 2006, but the number of convictions rose by 26 per cent. The commissioners said that they were concerned by the trend for police to bring charges instead of issuing cautions as they did in the past.

Since the UK ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1991, the Government has been obliged to submit progress reports to the UN Committee every five years, outlining how the state is fulfilling its commitment to children and young people. This year, for the first time, the UK's four Children's Commissioners have joined forces to submit a joint report to the UN Committee on their experiences of monitoring how the state treats children and young people. The commissioners said that serious concerns remain about the significant breaches of children's rights in the UK. The report identifies eighteen areas of common concern across the UK regions.

With 2,900 under 18s imprisoned in the past year, Britain detains more children than any other country in Western Europe.

The commissioners concluded that too many children were being put through the criminal justice system and the poverty experienced by one in three youngsters was unacceptable for a rich nation.

More than 1.3 million children in Britain live with parents with drink problems. Teenage girls who live in deprived areas are four times more likely to become pregnant than those in affluent areas.

The commissioners said that public bodies in England and Wales had failed to put the best interests of children first in decision-making.

The system is dominated by a punitive approach and does not sufficiently distinguish between adult offenders and children who break the law," the report said.

"Compared to other European countries, England has a very low age of criminal responsibility and high numbers of children are locked up. Too many children are being criminalised and brought into the youth justice system at an increasingly young age."

Speaking in reaction to the report, the Director of the Howard League for Penal Reform, Frances Crook, said: "The children's commissioners have come out fighting the corner for children, who remain disenfranchised and insufficiently heard in our society.

"Children in custody should be treated the same as any other children. The use of painful physical restraint and practices such as forcible strip-searching must be banned. Most of all, the government should recognise that the overuse of juvenile custody in England and Wales is shameful and in contravention of our international obligations to children."

After hearing from the Children's Commissioners in Geneva on 11 June, the Committee will send representatives to the UK to examine firsthand how the country has embraced the Convention. In September 2008, a Government delegation will appear before the Committee to be questioned on its implementation of children's rights before the Committee drafts its final report. The Committee's report will set out its assessment of progress in implementing the Convention in the UK and it will hold the Government accountable through clear recommendations.

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