We’re fast approaching Universal Children’s Day, when the rights and welfare of children around the world are promoted.
Established by the United Nations in 1954, Universal Children’s Day is held on 20 November each year – the same day on which the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed in 1989.
The Convention was, in effect, a promise made by the UN to do everything possible to protect children around the world and promote their human rights. On this Universal Children’s Day, we have a lot to celebrate – since 1989, more children around the world receive an education and infant mortality rates have declined – but there are still many children whose basic human rights are violated, including children in the UK.
Children’s Rights in the UK - Violations
As a human rights solicitor, I have met many families of children who have suffered physical or sexual abuse in prison and have represented bereaved families at inquests into the deaths of their loved ones in prison custody.
Earlier this year, a report on the human rights of children in prison was submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) by the Howard League for Penal Reform. The report raised serious concerns about the number of children committing suicide in custody – children who are extremely vulnerable and who may not be getting adequate protection.
Cases of child sexual exploitation of children in care have also come to light in recent years, highlighting that 26 years after the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child there is still so much to be done to protect the rights of children.
How Children’s Rights in the UK are Protected
Children’s rights in the UK are protected by the Human Rights Act which, in October 2000, adopted the articles of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) into domestic law.
The Act imposes a positive duty to protect children upon all local authorities, which means they must ensure any decisions they make do not breach a child’s human rights. Myself and the other human rights lawyers at Slater and Gordon have seen how the Act has helped children who have suffered abuse successfully claim compensation against local authorities who have failed in their duty of care. We have also seen the Human Rights Act used in “failure to remove” litigation, where claims have been made against authorities who have failed to remove children from situations in which they were suffering abuse.
Where at one time local authorities had “blanket immunity” from claims arising from breaches of their duty to protect children, courts now accept that the interests of the child are paramount and that, when exercising their statutory duty to protect children in care, local authorities owe children a common law duty of care.
Although there is so much more to do regarding the protection of children’s rights, such as better protection of children in prison and earlier intervention by authorities in cases where they suspect children are suffering harm, there has been steady progress over the last 26 years, largely thanks to the Human Rights Act.
Not all countries around the world offer the same protection of children’s rights as the UK, so on Universal Children’s Day this year, we should salute children everywhere and remember that keeping them safe from harm and protecting their basic human rights really is paramount.
Kim Harrison is Slater and Gordon’s National Practice Development Leader for Human Rights.
For a free consultation with a human rights solicitor, call Slater and Gordon Lawyers on freephone 0800 916 9046 or contact us online.