Opinion: We need to enshrine children’s rights in law

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:

  1. 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 was the PPC for Oxford East in the 2017 General Election. She is a pianist and composer at www.kirstenjohnsonpiano.com.

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  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jan '15 - 11:00am

    I agree about protecting children in law but this: ‘ Relationship is about equality, and equality is what is missing from many children’s lives.’

    No. Children deserve to be valued but they are still children not adults. The relationship is not equal because adults are responsible for children. Children are dependents. Children should be respected and valued but this sort of political correctness based on emotional reasoning is unhelpful and misleading.

    Another example:
    ‘ I felt I had a better answer than the adult engaging with me, but I was not listened to because I was a child’ and…Children have the right to be listened to, to be included in decisions and to be valued as equal members of our society.

    How on earth are we going to legislate that individual adults ‘listen’ to children in the same way they might listen to their doctor? Should children be involved in bill- paying and what happens if a child does not want to attend the dentist? Should they be ‘listened to’ and not have to go?

    Children actually feel secure when adults don’t involve them in every aspect of their adult lives – too much off-loading on to children creates anxiety.

    Adults should be empowered to look after their children responsibly not disempowered by such rhetoric about children being ‘equal’ to their parents.

  • Alex Sabine 18th Jan '15 - 1:55pm

    Agree 100% Helen… not 110% mind you 😉

    There is a big difference between a duty to protect children – which any civilised society mut do – and the silly and philosophically confused notion that children must be treated like adult citizens with the same legal rights.

    As Jonathan Calder has often argued on his blog, this sort of thinking has led to the progressive nationalisation of parenting, the infantilisation of adults and the demise of childhood. And it is failing children.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Jan '15 - 4:12pm

    I suggest, you take an interest in the situation of those children who have problems with certain countries, and are caught up in the child abduction issues with the Hague and the Brussels 11a.

    How I remember so well, trying to get my former Lib Dem MP interested, after Mike Hancock finished, with the All Party not one person could be found to take his place.

    As I explained at the time to this MP, this is covered by the UNICEF Bill of Rights for the Child.

    This is reason, well one of them that I moved, and I know of another with a Lib Dem MP, he did not much help either.

  • Kirsten Johnson 18th Jan '15 - 5:03pm

    Two things: I am advocating incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into UK law, something that has been called on for the last 25 years by people from various political parties. Click on the link above and I think you’ll agree these rights should be enshrined in law.

    Secondly, perhaps, Helen, we are disagreeing on a different issue, that of parenting styles. I grew up in an authoritarian household where I was expected to obey and not question, and where my father was the head of the household. Needless to say, my own marriage is run as a partnership between two equals, and we seek to value our children and listen to them. Giving equal value and giving a voice is not the same thing as letting the child make all their own decisions. But letting children be part of the decision-making process, and listening to them, gives them to tools on how to make independent decisions and how to have listening relationships.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Jan '15 - 5:32pm

    I am 66 years of age, and respect the law ,and the need to improve the law. I have written on the subject, and how other MP’s in different parties behave, in certain situations.

    Yes, I too was brought up in a different world, my world is one where I make a stand for law and justice.

    My people suffer at present, I have have not always been listened too. I became a Jew many years ago.

    The equality in this situation was made clear at a very recent meeting on children’s law, where one of yours was there. Simon Hughes? As I stated then, here in the UK we have a system that does try to consider more options. Not equal in other other countries when the courts cover the life a child that has passed through our system

    Read the UNICEF Bill for the child it clearly states that our Government is responsible for children, where ever. If they are part of the law.

  • Kirsten Johnson 18th Jan '15 - 5:54pm

    I should have written ‘Helen Tedcastle’! Sorry Helen Dudden for the confusion. Yes, I agree that the rights of children in other countries are not upheld. Yes, I agree that the Unicef Bill of Rights is a call to fully implement the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child not only in our law but all over the world.

  • Helen Dudden 18th Jan '15 - 6:13pm

    These are children within the British laws, taken illegally, and retained.

    Actually, they don’t like it much, some go on to have issues with their lives. As I said very sad your Party ignores some issues.

  • Helen Tedcastle 18th Jan '15 - 7:41pm

    @ Alex Sabine

    I pretty much agree with all of your comment.

    @ Kirsten Johnson

    Yes, there seems to be two trajectories in the article between the Unicef rights of the child and the parenting styles. It is definitely the latter that concerns me. With rights come responsibilities in my view. There are a significant number of parents who see children as ‘equal’ in the sense of the same, perhaps as an extension of themselves or as a best friend.

    So for example, their children can do little wrong and if another adult challenges their behaviour, the parent will back the child no matter what and no matter the consequences for others eg: in school.

    These children learn little responsibility – it’s all about rights and what they can get out of situations. For this I’m afraid the parents are responsible for the indulgence.

    Obviously there are so many situations in the world where children are denied basic rights – my comment relates to parenting styles (dare I say among middle class mums) I have witnessed in the UK.

  • Eddie Sammon 18th Jan '15 - 7:43pm

    Kirsten Johnson and Helen Dudden,

    First of all Kirsten. This is a well researched article and articles with research in are nearly always of the best kind. I read the conclusion of the report and I was open minded to most of it, until the last recommendation about maintaining the decriminalisation of children. If we want to treat children as adults then they can’t just have the best parts of it.

    Best of luck in any candidate hustings.

    Helen Dudden. You regularly write about Lib Dems ignoring your concerns about child abduction, but I still do not follow exactly what you think is not being done about it and what you think should be done instead. Why don’t you write an article on it?


  • Helen Dudden 19th Jan '15 - 9:31am

    Eddie Salmon, lack of interest and effort.

    Look at the REUNITE International webpage, look at the MPs in The All Party, actually a Labour MP and a Conservative are making changes at this time.

    All children matter, those being protected under British law matter too. You may be a small Party, I am an individual that has pushed hard to bring some changes. Going to Brussels and coming up to London. Having contact with anyone that would listen.

    The explanation from Nick Clegg’s office was, you are too small a Party to have any input or wish to help.

    One more thing housing, another issue for good family life, short falls in the city of Bath, again, not an interest of your sitting MP.

    Not much left if I voted for your Party, only at election time, is the answer I would receive.

  • the right to protection from violence and abuse

    I thought child abuse was already illegal in Britain. Have I been wrong all this time?

    I thought it was already illegal to be violent towards children in Britain (pace disagreements about whether corporal punishment is ‘violence’). Have I been wrong all this time?

    If I haven’t, why are extra laws needed?

    Legislation, as I think someone once wrote, is not the place to ‘send a message’.

  • Helen Dudden 19th Jan '15 - 2:29pm

    This is within the EU. As will see and of course understand international law. But the proceedings often start in the UK. I was at a case in the Supreme Court on habitual residency. A case that involved a child who had never resided in the UK. As you will know Hague is a Convention and Brussels 11a a Regulation.

    We are talking emotional abuse, the abuse that we term, is with holding the rights of a child/children to see and know its family. All listed in the above UNICEF Bill of Rights for the Child.

  • Helen Dudden 19th Jan '15 - 2:33pm

    Dav. Your MPs are not interested in the above subject, so I have made my point. For some it does not matter, for others involved it does. That is the MOJ and the FCO have support with Reunite.

  • Kirsten Johnson 19th Jan '15 - 7:19pm

    Yes, Dav, you’re right that there are already some laws protecting children but what we don’t have is a universal obligation to protect children from all violence. Just because there is a law saying you can’t do something to a child does not mean that there is a duty to prevent it from happening in the first place. I believe a Children’s Rights Act would undergird these principles in law so that there is a presumption to protect and enable rather than just prosecution when wrongs happen.

    In addition the UNCRC promotes so many other aspects of a good life for a child, as well as preventing harm. Why not give children the best protection possible? Lib Dems want to create a fair, free and open society, and from my point of view that needs to have children at the heart.

  • Alex Sabine 20th Jan '15 - 1:06pm

    @ Kirsten
    “Just because there is a law saying you can’t do something to a child does not mean that there is a duty to prevent it from happening in the first place.”

    You’ve lost me here I’m afraid. Surely a law saying you can’t (for example) abuse a child means that those who abuse children can and should be prosecuted for breaking the law? By doing so society is discharging its duty to protect children, since those who plan to abuse children can see that their actions will have consequences.

    Of course, it is important that the law is enforced and that, unlike too many previous cases, allegations of abuse are treated seriously. Unfortunately this will not prevent all abuse, since (as in other areas of criminal law) people will sometimes take their chances and flout it. But this isn’t because the principles are not enshrined in law, and it would not be lessened by superimposing new laws on top of existing laws outlawing abuse.

    As it happens I largely agree with the approach to parenting you outlined above. However to seek to enshrine this enlightened approach in law would be to nationalise parenting. This is not a question of parenting styles; it is a question of the appropriate boundaries of the criminal law on the one hand and of parental responsibility and discretion on the other. Fulfilling the solemn duty to protect children does not mean bestowing them with adult citizenship rights.

  • Helen Dudden 20th Jan '15 - 1:43pm

    If there was more law, perhaps your MPs would take it more responsibility.

    Do you feel that a British court order should have respect?

    Actually, I do respect all law, Talmud or our court systems. I think your MPs like an easy life.

  • Kirsten johnson 22nd Jan '15 - 8:41am

    There is a lot of information on children’s rights on the Children’s Rights Alliance for England website: http://www.crae.org.uk. They have produced a review of government action on the UN recommendations for strengthening the rights of children in the UK here: http://www.crae.org.uk/media/64143/CRAE_England_Report_WEB.pdf.

    By ‘prevent it from happening in the first place’ I mean listening to children in the first place so that they are taken out of situations where they are in danger. There is a lot more that can be done on preventing harm and keeping children safe. Undergirding children’s rights in law creates a societal shift in valuing children and their voice in every aspect of their lives.

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