UK comes under scrutiny at the Human Rights Council

Category: Civil Rights and Freedoms

24th May 2013

The UK has been criticised by the Human Rights Council for its low minimum age of criminal responsibility; the high numbers of children in prison; the increase in the use of restraints against children in detention and a lack of willingness by the Government to protect children from physical punishment in the home.

A theme coming from the Committee Against Torture's (CAT) latest session is a progressive move linking children's rights abuses in justice systems to torture.

The UK has come under particular scrutiny, with the Committee criticising the very low minimum age of criminal responsibility of 10 years old (England and Wales). In response, the UK has said the Government has no plans to change the minimum age of criminal responsibility because 10 year olds are "old enough to differentiate between bad behaviour and serious wrongdoing".

The UK was also criticised for the high numbers of children in prison and a reported increase in the use of restraints against children in detention. The delegation went on to add that to combat very high juvenile re-offending rates (over 70 per cent of children who have been in custody re-offend within a year in England and Wales), the Government plans to set up "secure colleges" in what it says is an effort to put education at the centre of rehabilitation.

While welcoming the Government's reform efforts, national NGO the Howard League for Penal Reform is concerned that "confusion is at the heart of these plans...We should never send children to prison to get an education", said Frances Cook, Chief Executive, adding "almost all the children who end up in custody could be dealt with in the community and that is the way to get them back into school, college or training".

The CAT also asked the UK about a lack of willingness by the Government to protect children from physical punishment in the home. The delegation gave its usual response: "The United Kingdom Government does not wish to criminalise parents for giving their child a mild smack."

This approach illustrates a lack of understanding around children's rights, as allowing children to be hit cannot be reconciled with respect for children's dignity and viewing them as rights holders.

The Child Rights Information Network (CRIN) has a dedicated microsite on children and violence.

 

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