UN Committee “deeply concerned that children and their families can be deprived of their nationality without notice”

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has published a review on the state of children’s rights in the UK.

It has made close to 200 recommendations – known as concluding observations – for the UK Government, the devolved governments and the Crown Dependencies to take action on.

The findings contain the Committee’s main concerns and recommendations on implementing the Child Rights Convention as well as positive aspects. Key highlights include:

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The Committee expressed concerns about the potential impact of the Illegal Migration Bill on children, the criminalisation of arrival without prior permission, and restrictions on the rights of asylum and family reunification. It urged the State party to urgently amend the Illegal Migration Bill to repeal all draft provisions that would have the effect of violating children’s rights, to ensure that all asylum-seeking and refugee children, including unaccompanied children, are not criminalised and have access to necessary support and services, and to guarantee that unaccompanied children have an unqualified right to apply for family reunification.

The Committee was concerned that children as young as 10 or 12 are held criminally responsible across the country, that children who are 16 and 17 years old are not always treated as children in the justice system, and that legislation allows for life imprisonment of children. It urged the State party to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years of age in all jurisdictions, ensure that children are not prosecuted as adult offenders, and abolish life imprisonment for children and young people who committed offences when they were below the age of 18.

The above findings, officially known as Concluding Observations, are now available on the session webpage.

The Committee welcomed the passing of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill by the Scottish Parliament in 2021. It recommends the Scottish Government to “expeditiously bring forward the amendments necessary to enact the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill”, and to involve children and young people in the development of action plans to implement the Convention.

It also recommends to ” Strengthen efforts to fully incorporate the Convention into national legislation in England, Wales, Northern Ireland, the Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies, and conduct a comprehensive review of all legislation to align it with the Convention and address any inconsistencies”

Nick Hobbs, Acting Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said:

“Governments are accountable for their actions and the process of reporting to the UN provides essential scrutiny. The concluding observations are a powerful reminder to the Scottish and UK governments that there is a long way to go to uphold children’s rights here.

“It’s vital that they step up and keep the promises they have made to children under the UNCRC. The Committee has quite rightly called out the unacceptable delay to incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law. The Scottish Government must respond by returning the Bill to the Scottish Parliament before the summer recess. Enough time has been wasted.”

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It urged governments in the UK to take action on poverty and mental health services provision, strengthening and resourcing community-based therapeutic mental health services and programmes for children of all ages.

It “noted with deep concern the number of children living in poverty, food insecurity, and homelessness” and pushed for benefits to be increased and the UK two-child benefits cap to be abolished.

The committee was concerned that it is permissible to marry in Scotland, Northern Ireland, the Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies of Guernsey and the Isle of Man at age 16 and it recommends: ” Prohibit all marriages under 18 years of age, without exception, in Scotland, Northern Ireland and all Overseas Territories and the Crown Dependencies of Guernsey and the Isle of Man.”

The Committee was heavily critical of the UK Government’s Illegal Migration Bill, saying that it should be urgently amended as current draft includes provisions that violates children’s rights under the Convention and the 1951 Refugee Convention, noting UK Government’s obligations “to ensure children’s right to nationality, to seek asylum and to have their best interests taken as a primary consideration, as well as to prevent their prolonged detention and removal”.

The Committee is deeply concerned that children and their families can be deprived of their nationality without notice under the Nationality and Borders Act of 2022, which also retroactively validated deprivation decisions already made but found unlawful by courts.

The UN’s evidence session in Geneva last month was informed by children and young people, including Arden and Omima – Members of Children’s Parliament, and Beau and Daisy – Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament. They were joined by Grace and Ally, two Young Advisors from the Commissioner’s office, as part of #TeamScotlandUN. The group met Committee members and influenced key questions that the Committee asked the Scottish Government.

Speaking on behalf #TeamScotlandUN, Daisy, MSYP said:

“I felt that the Committee’s questions to the government truly echoed what we as children and young people had told them mattered to us. I implore the government to commit to addressing all the Committee’s recommendations and providing a clear action plan which is accessible to children in order to be held to account. In doing so they have the ability to create a better country for all young people to grow up in.”

The Committee has also heard evidence from the UK’s children and young people’s commissioners, human rights organisations and civil society.

Juliet Harris, Director of Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights), the organisation that coordinated children and young people’s involvement in the review, said:

“The UN Committee’s recommendations are a tribute to the tireless efforts of children and young people to ensure their rights are upheld. We know that members of the UN Committee were inspired by their passion and energy and that very many of these recommendations build directly on what children and young people told them. We look forward to working alongside children, young people and our members to ensure these recommendations are translated into action and that decision makers are held to account on their progress.”

You can find the report here: CRC – Convention on the Rights of the Child 93 Session (08 May 2023 – 26 May 2023)

a young man

Fiona Grahame

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