UK 'lagging behind' on children's rights

Date: 22nd December 2011
Category: General measures of implementation

Baroness Massey, a Trustee of UNICEF UK, argues that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child should become part of domestic UK legislation.

It is 20 years since the UK government ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child - has there been significant progress in ensuring children's rights are considered at all levels of decision-making?

Not at all levels of decision-making.

I believe there has been quite a bit of lip service, and there's certainly been reference through amendments to bills, by people who are quite keen on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, but I have to say that it's been mainly coming up in amendments from people who have been working, say, for quite a while; people connected with children.

I'm speaking about the Lords now, of course, because I don't know about the Commons, but I suspect it might be the same over there as well. It's the keen people who are pushing it all the time and sometimes not getting the responses that we would have hoped for. It has benefited the voluntary sector in their being able to quote it, but I think as far as Parliament is concerned, it has really been a bit of an uphill struggle.

Why is it so important for the convention to become part of domestic law?

It would make life easier for all bills really, coming through Parliament, because we could then refer back to the Convention instead of having to go through all of the intricacies of all the different aspects of it when we come to a bill. So I think being able to refer directly back would actually be a lot easier.

Is the UK government lagging behind other countries on making children's rights part of domestic legislation?

Yes, I think it is. As far as I know, and I only know from speaking to various commissioners in other countries, it took us quite a while to get a Children's Commission in England, didn't it? We do seem to be having to push quite strongly on all aspects of the Convention when it comes to bills.

Why do you think the devolved administrations in Scotland and Wales have been more proactive than the government at Westminster on this issue?

Possibly because they're smaller. They had Children's Commissions before England, of course. I also think that there have been some quite clear-cut issues, particularly in Wales, which precipitated the appointment of the Judge Commissioner.

The child molestation stuff in South Wales; I know we've had the same in England, but I think that came before us. I also think that there are people in Scotland and Wales who, for a long time, have been very active in the area of children's rights. Because we are so much more of a complicated structure, it just takes a long time to get through.