The four UK Children’s Commissioners are calling on the UK Government and its devolved governments to address the systemic disadvantages facing children and young people across the nations.
In a joint report to the UN, the Commissioners conclude that the Covid-19 pandemic has amplified the systemic disadvantages faced by thousands and identify services that have been critically affected.
Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and young People also said Brexit was posing a very specific and serious threat to child protection in Northern Ireland.
Within the report – which assesses the UK’s performance in protecting children’s rights over the last five years – they call for a ‘no wrong door’ approach to mental health services, where no child or young person who needs help is turned away without any support. The report also calls on the four nations to focus on lifting many more out of poverty through the reversal of the most damaging aspects of welfare reform measures, and through clear and immediate action plans for ending child poverty.
Speaking on behalf of the four Commissioners, Professor Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, said:
“Our assessment of where our Governments are in protecting children’s human rights is unsurprising. The UK is a relatively rich country but yet the number of children living in poverty continues to rise; with the impact of Covid-19 widening inequalities and making things increasingly more difficult for families. Mental health services are not adequately resourced and readily available to those children that need help.
“These are basic human rights issues that we have reported on repeatedly over the last few years. Whilst there have been pockets of positive developments, ultimately, these are policy choices made by the four nations and this pandemic has highlighted the need for all policy makers to place the best interests of children and their human rights at the heart of decision-making.
“When done effectively, we’ve seen such positive outcomes for children, including the removal of the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ in Scotland and extending the vote to 16 and 17 year olds in Wales. However, this needs to become a systematic way of working across the UK to ensure an end to the persistent disadvantages faced by some of our more vulnerable children and young people.”
Speaking about Northern Ireland specifically, Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People said:
“The report highlights the work still to be done in Northern Ireland to ensure that children get the best start in life. While I am assured by some plans to address child poverty and mental health in Northern Ireland I urge fast action, especially after the effect Covid has had in relation to both these issues on the lives of our most disadvantaged and vulnerable young people.
“Further to the issues outlined in the paper in relation to the impact of Brexit, children in NI are facing a specific and serious threat to their protection when we leave the European Union in a couple of weeks’ time unless this can be urgently addressed.
“Our land border inevitably exposes vulnerabilities to child abductions, child sexual exploitation, children going missing, and/or being trafficked to and through NI.
“Access to child protection measures such as the European Arrest Warrant, sharing of criminal record information and a ‘real-time’ crime alert system which enables quick action where a vulnerable child is at risk, including potential parental abduction and trafficking, will be lost to us unless a ‘Future Security Partnership’ can be agreed.”
All four UK Children’s Commissioners conclude each nation should incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into their domestic laws. This would create a systematic way of working across the UK, ensure an end to the persistent disadvantages faced by some of our more vulnerable children and young people and ultimately improve their lives.