On 20 November 2009, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child celebrated its 20th birthday. No longer a teenager, it has become since its birth in 1989 the most universally accepted and ratified Convention the world has ever seen.
But what are its achievements and what are the challenges that lie ahead for its full implementation across the UK? This was the subject of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England’s (CRAE) annual children’s rights conference.
At the conference I was’ live tweeting’ with the #crae tag and sought to capture some of the main themes and draw out key issues as identified by delegates. Over the coming months, this dialogue will continue to help clarify the way ahead at a time of policy and probable political change. Add your reflections as we paint a larger picture and build toward a national conference in the early summer in partnership with Investing in Children.
The driving message throughout the conference was that for 20 20 vision, children’s human rights focus is the vital perspective for change.
Sir Al Ainsley Green, outgoing first England Commissioner at 11 Million, is convinced we have reached the tipping point for children and young people’s human rights in England, with the launch of Working Together, Achieving More.
But he was not suggesting complacency! For example Mosquito devices that hurt the ears indiscriminately of the young, against which there are no regulations at all. “If there was similar targeting of elderly people with their scooters or Zimmer frames there would be outrage,” he said.
Sir Al’s threefold challenges are our government’s treatment of asylum seekers and deporting child refugees, our treatment of travellers and, third our juvenile justice system. “These are regimes that are brutal and not fit for purpose,” he concluded.
Other pressing concerns from contributors and delegates included:
- Young people from CRAE’s Get Ready for Geneva project noted that all of their 14 recommendations appear in the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s legally binding Concluding Observations to the UK government – but what’s changed beyond the chance to have a say?
- For another young panellist there is outrage at government’s blanket belief that age discrimination does not affect under 18s. “Government is quite frankly wrong. The Equalities Bill should come into force at birth.”
- Tackle the education gaps caused by poverty, disability and being in care – these are the three education rights challenges for Christine Gilbert, HM Chief Inspector for Education at Ofsted.
And for delegates, what were their top three rights issues affecting children and young people?
- Beings not becomings; better informed on children and young people’s rights and learn from change achieved – Ginny Morrow (V.Morrow@ioe.ac.uk);
- Protect the advances of last 10 years, push for socio-economic equality and tackle youth justice wholesale – Lisa Payne (email@example.com);
Add your comments on government progress and the key challenges ahead.
What was clear was that, despite the challenges and disappointments of recent years, we may look back and see this 20th anniversary as a high tide of achievement for children and young people’s human rights in the UK, with the tide of policy and positive politics on the retreat.
On the larger canvass, concluding panellists therefore urged for backing for the current Private Members Children’s Rights Bill, seeking wholesale incorporation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law. If this seems wishful thinking, Professor Francesca Klug pointed out the years of lobbying before the European Convention on Human Rights became the Human Rights Act in the UK in 1998.
So happy birthday UNCRC! Professor Klug set the challenge for the coming few years which may yet see a retreat, not just against children and young people’s rights but human rights for all citizens. In this context, she urged that children and young people’s rights do not become a separatist movement, but one held and championed within a wider human rights framework which holds the “vision for society based on ethical norms,” rooted in “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the mother & father of all human rights instruments.”