Children's rights - substance or spin?

14 AUG 2006

Jane Fortin, Professor of Law, Kings College London. The paper is based on a lecture presented at a conference arranged by the Child Studies postgraduate programme at Kings College London, June 2006. In 2007, the UK will present to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child its third report (combined with its fourth) describing its progress in implementing the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (UNCRC). Things have certainly moved on since the UK presented its first report to that committee in 1994. There does now appear to be a more widespread perception in the country that children have rights that ought to be respected. Surprisingly, however, many practitioners working with children give the government credit for a rights agenda which is simply not there. They talk with considerable confidence about the Children Act 2004, combined with the Every Child Matters programme, which they say create a new children's rights agenda. The author says this, of course, is simply untrue. The Green Paper, Every Child Matters, Cm 5860 (TSO, 2003) contains no mention of children's rights and those who followed the progress of the Children Act 2004 know that Margaret Hodge, then the Minister for Children, Young People and Families, expunged from the Bill every reference to the word 'rights', bar one the single reference to the word is when the Act refers by name to the UNCRC. Section 10 of the Children Act 2004, which many think is the most important section in the whole Act, imposes a duty on all children's services to promote children's well-being, but contains no mention of promoting their rights. Indeed, due to the Minister's efforts, the Children's Commissioner for English children, unlike any other Children's Commissioner in the world, is under no legislative obligation to promote children's rights, nor even to promote their interests. See September [2006] Fam Law 759 for the full article.

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