Unicef calls on government to enshrine children's rights in UK law

Date: 20th November 2012
Category: General measures of implementation

The UK must incorporate children's rights into domestic law or risk the development and wellbeing of young people

Unicef has claimed.

The charity made the call after researching how other countries embed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into their legal structures.

It found that incorporating the UNCRC into law had a positive effect on developing child-focused policy and legislation, as well as changing public attitudes towards the youngest members of society.

The report contains examples of best practice from 12 countries including Australia, Spain and Sweden - territories where Unicef says children are recognised as "rights holders" - in contrast to the UK.

"The research shows that enshrining children's rights in law not only changes the way in which child-focused policy and legislation are developed and delivered, but can lead to a cultural shift in attitudes so that children are appropriately regarded as rights holders," said Anita Tiessen, Unicef UK's deputy executive director.

"In Belgium, Norway and Spain, where there has been incorporation, our research suggests that there has been a growing culture of respect for children's rights.

"Thanks to incorporation in Norway, for example, children aged seven years and older have the right to express their views before any decisions are made about their family situation."

The UK government ratified the UNCRC in 1991, but it does not form part of its domestic legal framework. Unicef said that while the UK government conforms with the UNCRC when "need or opportunity arises", it has made little progress toward statutory children's rights.

"This would include making sure adults who work with or on behalf of children, including lawyers and the judiciary, are fully trained to understand and implement the convention; conducting child impact assessments when developing relevant policy and laws; and ensuring children have a say in policies that affect them," said Tiessen.

In May this year, the government announced that provisions to strengthen the powers of the Children's Commissioner for England would include a new overall function to "promote and protect children's rights" as set out in the UNCRC.

The Unicef research investigated countries that have common or civil law structures comparable to the UK.