Our pre-manifesto calls for lowering the voting age to 16, increasing provision for children’s mental health, ring-fencing education budgets from pre-school through to college and committing to end child poverty. What I’d also like to see is a vision to incorporate the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child into U.K. law.
Why? We need to empower and enable children. We need to enshrine their rights in our law. The Human Rights Act does not mention child-specific rights as set out in the UNCRC: the right to education, the right to protection from violence and abuse, the right to play (wouldn’t it be nice if we all had the right to play?).
I remember being a 9-year old, expressing my point of view and not being taken seriously. I was furious. I felt I had a better answer than the adult engaging with me, but I was not listened to because I was a child.
I now have a 9-year old and I make a point of listening to her. I learn from her, she learns from me. It is a symbiotic relationship, one based on mutual respect and caring. I give her a cuddle, she gives me a cuddle. Relationship is about equality, and equality is what is missing from many children’s lives.
Children have the right to be listened to, to be included in decisions and to be valued as equal members of our society. Some may argue that children are less-experienced and not able to take decisions. I would argue rather that children are less jaded and more willing to call a spade a spade. Anyone who has truly listened to a child has come away enriched and enlightened. Why do we deny children a voice? And why can we not enshrine this right to be heard and empowered in our law?
A Children’s Rights Act would address all of the issues the UK falls short on in regards to children’s rights. Areas of concern have been highlighted by the Children’s Commissioner in the UNCRC Midterm Report and include youth justice, family justice and the care system, and children having a voice in their educational setting.
Article 12 of the UNCRC states:
- States parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
Surely it is time that the rights of the child are incorporated into UK law. In doing so we not only empower our children but we set a powerful example to other countries on the importance of children’s rights.
I’m proud we Lib Dems have ended child detention, introduced the Pupil Premium and led the way in de-stigmatising mental health for young people, but it is not enough. We must incorporate children’s rights as a legal duty rather than an added on afterthought.
* Kirsten Johnson is the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Spokesperson for Oxford East and a member of the Federal International Relations Committee.