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Where do my rights apply?

Children & Young People

The UK has signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 (UNCRC), which is an international treaty that protects the rights of children. However, the treaty is not legally binding, so children cannot take the UK Government to court if they do not protect these rights. Our Human Rights Act, on the other hand, is a UK law – so people can take the Government to court if they break it.

In our recent work with Together, we explained how the rights in the UNCRC relate to the rights in our Human Rights Act and how our Human Rights Act helps protect children.

Because the Human Rights Act applies to all our interactions with public services, children’s human rights are often particularly relevant in relation to things like education, social services and healthcare. For example, according to the Place2Be, a children’s mental health charity, 1 in 8 children and young people have a diagnosable mental health problem, and many continue to have these problems into adulthood. All services providing mental health support to young people in the UK have a legal duty under the Human Rights Act to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all the children and young people using their services.

It is important that children and young people are given the chance to learn about their human rights and the rights of those around them. In partnership with the Ministry of Justice, Amnesty International and the Department for Children, Schools and Family, we created a resource for Key Stage 3 Citizenship teachers in England called, “Right Here, Right Now – Teaching Citizenship through Human Rights”.

Key information

Who is this for:
Individuals and communities

Last updated
22nd November 2022

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Real life stories

The right to life may be relevant when the life of child or young person is known to be at immediate risk or if they are at risk of taking their life.

Ella Adoo-Kissi-Debrah was a nine-year-old girl who lived with her family near a busy London road. She was hospitalised nearly 30 times in three years for asthma-related issues. She died in 2013 as a direct result of air pollution. Her family argued that the Government failed to uphold Ella’s right to life by allowing dangerously high levels of pollution, and their lawyer said “I think it entirely possible in relation to those people who have been affected by air pollution that they could use the Human Rights Act to try and enforce their right to breathe clean air.”

The right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment may be relevant when children are subjected to serious abuse or neglect in a way that causes mental or physical harm or humiliates them.

In Z v UK, the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) found that social services had breached Z and her brothers’ right to be free from inhuman or degrading treatment by not acting on signs of abuse and neglect. Their case was referred to Social Services by a health visitor after five-year-old Z was reported to be stealing food. Family and neighbours had reported concerns about neglect by their mother and the school had reported bruises on the children. The police, who had been in the house after a burglary, had also reported filthy bedrooms and urine-soaked mattresses. However, the children were not removed from their mother’s care until five years later when their mother insisted that they be placed in emergency care. The ECtHR said that Social Services had a positive duty to protect the children from the treatment they had suffered and by not doing so had breached the children’s human rights.

The right to private and family life, home and correspondence may be relevant when children have limited or restricted contact with their family members.

In ABC (AP) v Principal Reporter, a child known as ABC wanted to be involved with his brother’s foster care proceedings. Although the Supreme Court did not say he should be involved in the court case, they did confirm that in order to respect the right to family life, public authorities must be aware of a child’s siblings and their interests and those siblings should be informed of the nature of legal proceedings concerning a child’s rights.

The right to be free from discrimination may be relevant when children and young people are disproportionately impacted by an action (or lack of action) by public bodies.

In 2005, a company started selling a device known as the “Mosquito” alarm designed to stop teenagers “loitering” in certain areas. This emits a buzzing sound at a frequency that can only be heard by young people. Human rights charity Liberty argued that this device interferes with the Article 8 right to private life and, because it only affects young people, this interference is discriminatory under Article 14. Following campaigns from campaign groups and youth councils, the Mosquito device was banned on all council buildings in Sheffield, Kent, Edinburgh and Dublin on safety grounds.

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