UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international human rights treaty that grants all children and young people (aged 17 and under) a comprehensive set of rights. It is the only international human rights treaty to include civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It sets out in detail what every child needs to have a safe, happy and fulfilled childhood regardless of their sex, religion, social origin, and where and to whom they were born, including the rights to:
- special protection measures and assistance
- access to services such as education and healthcare
- develop their personalities, abilities and talents to the fullest potential
- grow up in an environment of happiness, love and understanding
- be informed about and participate in achieving their rights in an accessible and active manner.
The UK signed the convention on 19 April 1990, ratified it on 16 December 1991 and it came into force on 15 January 1992.
When a country ratifies the convention it agrees to do everything it can to implement it. The convention has not been incorporated into UK law. However, in 2010 the UK Government committed to give “due regard” to the convention when making new policy and legislation. The Welsh Government has also been using the Convention as the basis for policy making for children and young people in Wales since 2004.
The UK first reported to the UNCRC on 15 March 1994. Since then it has produced a further 4 periodic reports. The UK’s performance in implementing the convention was last examined by the UN in September 2008.
As one of the UK’s National Human Rights Institutions, the Commission can submit a shadow report to the UNCRC, setting out our evidence about the UK’s performance in implementing the convention.
Some of the key observations made by the UNCRC reflected the priority issues the Commission raised in its shadow report, including:
- Discrimination and social stigmatisation continues to be experienced by children from particular groups
- The low age of criminal responsibility
- Use of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) for children
- Use of physical restraint on children in places of deprivation of liberty
- Rights of children with special educational needs
- High rate of school exclusions for children from particular groups
- Detention of asylum seeking children
Find out more about what the UN Committee concluded after examining the UK Government's performance in 2008 - link to COs from 2008.
In May 2014, the UK submitted "The Fifth Periodic Report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child". The Department for Education takes the lead in coordinating the UK’s State report to the UNCRC, securing contributions from the devolved administrations, which are responsible for implementing UNCRC in their jurisdictions. It has recently conducted a call for views on the draft state report:
In line with the Commission’s role in facilitating the participation of civil society in monitoring the implementation of UN treaties, we commissioned the Children’s Rights Alliance (England) to coordinate a response to the call for views on behalf of the Children’s sector in England. Read the response
The UK’s performance in implementing the convention is expected to be examined again in 2016.
Articles 34 and 35 of UNCRC require states to protect children from all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse, and take all measures possible to ensure that they are not abducted, sold or trafficked. The Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography supplements this by providing states with detailed requirements to end these activities.
- creates obligations to criminalize and punish activities related to these offences;
- protects the rights and interests of child victims, by requiring States to provide legal services to child victims and to support them with necessary medical, psychological, logistical and financial support to aid their rehabilitation and reintegration; and
- Stresses the value of international cooperation and public education as a means of combating these often transnational activities.
The Protocol came in to force in 2002, with the UK government ratifying it in 2009. The UK submitted its first state report on 6 June 2011 under the Optional Protocol (Read report) .
The UK’s performance in implementing the Protocol was examined by the UNCRC in June 2014. The examination took place on the basis of this list of issues (UK CRC list of issues). The UK submitted a response to the UK CRC list of issues in April 2014 (read report).
In April 2014, the Comission submitted a comprehensive shadow report to the UN CRC (read report). The report identifies a number of key priority issues under the Convention, which the Commission called on the UN CRC to raise with the UK, including:
- Improvements to the draft Modern Slavery Bill to ensure that all acts of trafficking and forced labour – along the whole supply chain - are criminalised, and that the law is clear, simple and easy to use;
- Providing the proposed UK Anti-Slavery Commissioner with sufficient independence, powers and resources to effectively tackle their role;
- Improvements to services to support child victims, including the introduction of a Trafficking Care Standard, the appointment of guardians for victims of child trafficking, and access to compensation for child victims;
- Addressing the concerns about the impact of reforms to civil legal aid and judicial review, and the introduction of a residence test on the rights of child victims;
- Improvements to data collection and analysis to ensure the true extent and nature of child trafficking and forced labour in the UK is understood;
- Reviewing and making statutory, the Crown Prosecution Service’s guidance for prosecuting child trafficking cases, ensuring the best interests of the child is a primary consideration; and Improvements to the identification and protection of child victims and those at risk of trafficking or forced labour.
In June 2014, the UNCRC published its concluding observations on the UK’s implementation of the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children.
The UNCRC identified and welcomed progress achieved in a number of areas including:
- the establishment of a National Group to tackle Sexual Violence against children and Vulnerable People by the Home office; and
- the published guidance on investigating child sex offences published by the National Policing lead for England and Wales.
However, the UNCRC outlined a number of areas for UK improvement, including:
- The need for a systematic mechanism for data collection under all offences under Optional Protocol throughout the UK, including in Scotland and Northern Ireland;
- The importance of the proposed Anti-Slavery Commissioner having sufficient statutory independence, a robust mandate and sufficient resources to ensure protection of children's rights under the Optional Protocol;
- The need to prioritise the provision of an independent guardian for child victims to ensure the best interest of the child through the justice process;
- The need for a unified comprehensive and overarching national plan of action to implement the Optional Protocol throughout the UK, including Scotland and Northern Ireland.
In 1990 the UN decided to appoint a Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography to investigate the exploitation of children around the world. The Special Rapporteur is expected to submit reports to the General Assembly and the Human Rights Council, making recommendations Governments, United Nations bodies and non-governmental organizations in order to protect the rights of children.
The Special Rapporteur’s most recent report (Report of the Special Rapporteur on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography) was submitted to the Human Rights Council in March 2014. Coming at the end of her six year mandate, the report provides an overview of the major, recent, global developments in relation to the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography.
As one of the UK’s National Human Rights Institutions, the Commission can make oral statements at the Human Rights Council in response to the reports of Special Rapporteurs. In March 2014, the Commission delivered a joint statement with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which focused on the need to improve the UK’s criminal laws to better protect children from different forms of sexual exploitation.
The role of Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children was established in 2005. The Human Rights Council invites the Special Rapporteur to:
- Take action on violations committed against trafficked person on situations in which there has been a failure to protect their human rights.
- Undertake country visits to formulate recommendations to prevent/combat trafficking.
- Submit annual reports to include recommendations on measures required to uphold and protect the human rights of victims.
The Special Rapporteur's most recent report (Report of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children) was submitted to the Human Rights Council in April 2014. The report provides an in-depth analysis of the first decade of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons, especially women and children, 2004–2014.
As one of the UK’s National Human Rights Institutions, the Commission can make oral statements at the Human Rights Council in response to the reports of Special Rapporteurs. In June 2014, the Commission delivered a joint statement via video link with the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, which focused on:
- welcoming recent efforts to improve the legislative framework on trafficking within the UK, through the draft Modern Slavery Bill (applicable to England and Wales), the draft Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill (applicable to Northern Ireland) and forthcoming legislation in Scotland.
- emphasising the importance of aligning the domestic definition of human trafficking more closely with the international definition.
- Welcoming the proposal to establish an Anti-Slavery Commissioner.
- Emphasising the importance of providing measure to protect child victims in forthcoming legislation, for example providing independent guardian to unaccompanied minors who are potential victims of trafficking.
- Recommending improvements in data analysis to help identify the true extent of the issue would be made.
Last Updated: 08 Oct 2014