01 July 2015
Government Must Act to Improve the Human Rights of Children in the UK
New reports out today have left me extremely worried about the current situation regarding the safety and human rights of children in the UK.
Grave concerns about the number of children committing suicide in UK prisons have been expressed by the Howard League for Penal Reform in their report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Concerns about children’s rights have also been voiced to the UNCRC today by the Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE).
As a Human Rights Solicitor, I am concerned about the findings of these reports, which demonstrate an urgent need for the government to act to improve children’s rights in this country.
Prison Suicides and a Child’s Right to Life
Children’s prisons may be failing in their basic duty to protect and keep safe the children that are in their care.
Since 2010, three children have committed suicide in prison custody. Inquests revealed that these were very vulnerable children who didn’t receive the level of protection or support they required. There were issues with both missed medication and a failure to properly assess the risk of self-harm and implement proper care procedures.
Prisons have a duty to protect the children in their care under Article 2 of the Human Rights Act, a duty that is breached if children are dying in prison because of a failure to protect them.
As a Human Rights Solicitor, I have represented many bereaved families over the years at inquests into how their loved ones died in prison custody. It’s always heart-breaking – and extremely frustrating – to see the same issues crop up time and time again and I’m very concerned that prisons appear to be failing in their duty to adequately protect the youngest and most vulnerable people in their care.
Use of Force Against Children in Prison
Concerns about how children are generally treated in prison were also highlighted in the Howard League report.
The rate of use-of-force incidents per 100 children in prison custody has doubled in the last five years, with 1,060 injuries sustained by child prisoners as a result of force being used when they were being restrained by prison officers.
61 of these injuries were classed as a “serious injury requiring hospital treatment.”
Culture Change Needed Regarding Children’s Human Rights
On the subject of child deaths in custody, I’m appalled that there has never been an independent report into how such deaths can be prevented and that the UK Government refused to include the deaths of children in custody in the Harris Review, which was set up to review the deaths of young adults in prison.
The Ministry of Justice should urgently investigate the concerns raised in today’s reports and examine ways in which the tragic deaths of young, vulnerable children in prison custody can be prevented.
Kim Harrison is Head Human Rights Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers UK.
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