World Children's Day 2023

Published: 20 November 2023

Today is World Children’s Day, an ideal time to reflect on how we protect and empower children and young people in Britain. While some progress has been made in recognising and safeguarding children's rights, there is still much work to be done.  

The UK agreed to follow the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1991. In doing so, the UK and Welsh governments have a legal duty to protect and promote the rights of children. In practice, this means that they must always give primary consideration to the best interests of the child when making decisions that may affect them. 

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recently reviewed the UK’s performance in promoting and protecting children’s human rights. We published our own comprehensive report on the state of children’s rights to support this review. Many of our proposals were repeated by the UN in its new set of recommendations to the UK in June this year. These recommendations cover every aspect of children’s lives. They provide a blueprint for governments to better uphold the rights in the CRC.  

The Committee found six priority areas where ‘urgent measures’ are needed:  

  • non-discrimination 

  • abuse, neglect, sexual exploitation and abuse 

  • children in care 

  • mental health 

  • asylum-seeking, refugee and migrant children, and 

  • youth justice. 

Long waiting lists for children seeking mental health treatment and the large number of children with mental health issues, learning disabilities and autism placed in detention and adult psychiatric wards are among the concerns raised by the Committee. Several recommendations were made, including to reform the Mental Health Act 1983 to prohibit the placement of children in adult settings. 

In its recommendations, the Committee also noted its concern about ‘the draconian and punitive nature’ of the justice system for children. It recommended that the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be raised from 10 to at least 14 years old, in line with international standards. 

We have encouraged the UK and Welsh governments to implement these new recommendations. We continue to work with them and others to ensure this goal is met. The first step is for both governments to develop and publish action plans which should  detail how they will take forward each of the Committee’s recommendations. 

By actively promoting and safeguarding the rights of children, governments can create a more equal and fair society for future generations.