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The UN Concluding Observations on the rights of children in the United Kingdom - June 2023

The UN has produced its final observations on the sixth and seventh reports on children's rights in the UK. The Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) had this to say about the report.

At Together with Migrant Children, we remain deeply concerned about the rights of migrant children and young people in the United Kingdom and am pleased to see the UN report recognise and acknowledge those concerns. The UN made the following observations in relation to Migrant Children, who are given a special recognition as a particularly vulnerable group in the UNCRC;

  • Migrant Children face barriers accessing safety and protection from exploitation and abuse.

  • Hostile environment policy and impact on children

  • No Recourse to Public Funds

  • Immigration procedures meant that children face adulterised systems, putting them at risk of detention and further harm.

  • Restrictions on family reunion and asylum protection.

  • Age disputes.

  • Access to healthcare, education, leisure and key services to support development.

  • Anti-trafficking mechanisms, victim first approaches and the NRM.

  • Being able to be heard in decisions made about them and their voice and views being key in how policy is developed.

The wider report also paints a dim picture for children's rights in England more widely, calling on the UK Government to re-think any plans to replace the Human Rights Act, to properly tackle and address Child Criminal Exploitation, police remand and imprisonment of children, disadvantage and inequality in education, poverty and school exclusions to name a few.

There remain concerns that as well as migrant children, there are risks to the rights of other protected groups, such as care leavers, BME, Roma and traveller children and children with disabilities, particularly in relation to poverty and outcomes compared to other children.

The Illegal Migration Bill

The report also makes specific mention of the Illegal Migration Bill, expressing it's deep concern around the provisions of the bill, specifically in relation to it effectively creating a ban on claiming asylum, prolonged detention, the potential for the removal of children and barriers to acquiring nationality. In essence, the reports concern centres around a complete lack of consideration as to the best interests of children in proposed immigration legislation.

A children's rights action plan

There are many recommendations in the concluding observations across many areas of concern, however, they all turn on the creation of a children's rights action plan that should set a clear direction for improving the rights of children in the United Kingdom.

In respect of migrant children, the report makes recommendations to;

  1. Amend all elements of the Illegal Migration Bill that infringe on children's rights

  2. Amend the Nationality and Borders Act to ensure all children have access to protection.

  3. An overhaul of the asylum system with children's best interests at the centre of policy and decision making..

  4. Ensure equal access to education, health, protection and other services.

  5. An overhaul of age assessment processes to make it fairer, legally sound and less invasive.

  6. Independent guardianship for all unaccompanied children.

  7. Review family reunification, ensuring all children have an unqualified right to apply for family reunification and putting the child's best interests at the heart of these decisions.

  8. Repeal hostile environment policy and ensure all children have access to legal representation, social protection and welfare benefits.

  9. Removal of no recourse to public funds and other provisions affecting children without 'regular residence status'.

  10. Implement long term solutions to ensure the regularisation of status for children and implement measures to prevent their social exclusion.

  11. Strengthen measures to tackle trafficking.

  12. Ensuring all child victims of trafficking and exploitation are treated as victims, afforded the right support and legal representation.

  13. Child focused and sensitive procedures within anti-trafficking systems.

At Together with Migrant Children, we agree with all the recommendations made by the report, as progress towards a more child centred, best interests led system for children. The recommendations, if they were to be implemented in full, would remove many of the harmful systems that impact of children and their families in the UK, in respect to immigration. However, with the current direction of policy and legislation in this space, the UK is set to make these things worse, not better.

However, to create a system that works for children and has their best interests at heart, the UK would need to go much further and make substantial changes to immigration policy and legislation and the delivery of services within that system to migrant children to ensure the group is not further disadvantaged and marginalised in society.

We also join CRAE in their recommendation for a children's minister to drive forward change for children's rights, who must have the freedom and scope to be able to influence policy and legislation at all levels and across departments, in order to make the most progress on improving the situation for children in the United Kingdom.

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