As we celebrate 70 years of universal human rights, and their protection in the UK via the Human Rights Act, Giana Rosa – Senior Policy and Public Affairs Advisor, Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) – shares her thoughts on progress on children’s rights in the UK.

The anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) is a reminder of the potential of human rights norms and principles to improve lives and create more just societies, based on the inherent dignity and equal rights of all people.  It’s also a reminder that we can’t take rights for granted and that there is still much to be achieved, even in the UK, one of the richest countries in the world.  Progress on children’s rights is a vital barometer for gauging commitment to realising the vision of the UDHR, 70 years after its adoption.

The Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) is a coalition of organisations and individuals working to promote children’s rights.  We believe that human rights are a powerful tool to make life better for children.  The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UN CRC) provides an essential framework to ensure that children are protected and their basic needs met. Currently, the CRC rights are not directly incorporated into UK law, but some of them are protected through the Human Rights Act (such as the right to private and family life, to education, and to freedom of assembly and association)

In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) issued its latest report on the UK’s efforts to implement the UN CRC, which it ratified in 1991.  The Committee made over 150 recommendations to the government, highlighting some serious concerns in a number of areas.  These include:

  • the increasing number of children with mental health needs and the insufficient support and services available;
  • the damaging impacts of inadequate, unsafe, overcrowded and insecure housing on homeless families placed in prolonged temporary accommodation;
  • rising rates of child poverty combined with the harmful effects of welfare reforms and austerity that have increased inequalities and disproportionately affected children from disadvantaged families;
  • the mistreatment of vulnerable children, including the use of restraint and seclusion in schools and custodial settings.

The report should act as a wake up call – a striking reminder of the UK government’s obligation to do everything in its power to improve the lives of children in this country, especially those facing the biggest difficulties.  Many of the Committee’s conclusions were echoed by CRAE’s own findings, in our 2017 State of Children’s Rights in England report. 

The UDHR‘s vision of everyone’s right to an adequate standard of living, on the basis of equality and non-discrimination, is far from being realised.  Worryingly, not only are we making insufficient progress, in some key areas we are going backwards.  A new report from the Equality and Human Rights Commission shows that there has been a deterioration of socio-economic rights – which include the right to adequate housing, social security, decent work and nutritious food – all of which have a profound effect on children.  Other reports also highlight rising levels of child poverty, and the disproportionate impacts on low—income households of low wages, job insecurity, poor housing and cuts to social security and public spending.

CRAE is urging the Government to act on the Committee’s recommendations, including by developing a children’s rights action plan and assessing policy decisions against the UK’s obligations under the UN CRC.  We continue to work with the CRC Action Group – a multi-stakeholder group which CRAE co-chairs with the Department for Education – to embed children’s rights in policy making. 

If human rights start close to home, as Eleanor Roosevelt famously declared, and as Brexit consumes the government’s attention, it’s more important than ever to call for more action on children’s rights, here and now.

BIHR is featuring a number of guest blogs as part of this year’s March for Human Rights campaign. This year’s campaign marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by celebrating human rights here in the UK. If you believe in universal human rights, take a moment to sign our UDHR birthday card. We will be delivering this card to the United Nations and the UK parliament on Human Rights Day later this year, to tell those in power that universal human rights matter here at home.