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Friday, 4 October, 2002, 13:51 GMT 14:51 UK
Charities urge change on kids' policy
Brinsford Young Offenders Prison
British children are routinely locked up in institutions
UN criticism of the treatment of British children has come as no surprise to charities and pressure groups which have long been lobbying the government over the issue.

The UN says the UK has failed to protect children from "all forms of physical and mental violence", in line with the UN convention it signed up to.

The lack of a dedicated Children's Commissioner for England and high levels of youth detention, are also expected to draw criticism.


Hitting children is a denial of their fundamental rights to be protected

Hilton Dawson MP

The government has refused to change the law which allows "reasonable chastisement" of children in England and Wales because it believes it goes against public opinion.

But 350 charitable organisations have signed up to the Children are Unbeatable Alliance, lobbying for children to be given the same legal protection from violence that adults have.

Hilton Dawson MP
MP Hilton Dawson supports a change in the law on smacking
NSPCC director Mary Marsh said: "A law to protect children from being hit would empower us all - professionals and public alike - to take action against child abuse when we see it.

"It would not put ordinary parents in the courts for 'trivial smacks', but it would send a very clear message that frequent and harsh physical punishment is not acceptable."

Protected

Labour MP Hilton Dawson, joint chair of the party parliamentary group on children, agreed.

He said: "Hitting children is a denial of their fundamental rights to be protected.

"It undermines every message we would ever want to give them against bullying and domestic violence and makes it more difficult for those working in child protection to do their job."


Our government has been content to watch the action from the sidelines

Lisa Payne, National Children's Bureau

The NSPCC says seven in 10 social workers believe that the "reasonable chastisement" law sends the wrong message to potentially abusive parents.

The UN report has also led the National Children's Bureau (NCB) to renew its call for a Children's Rights Commissioner for England, who would champion children's rights and respond when these are violated.

Last resort

Principal policy officer Lisa Payne said: "Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland have forged ahead in the race to appoint a Children's Commissioner.

"Meanwhile, our government has been content to watch the action from the sidelines, even though England has a larger child population than all three put together."

The issue of young offenders being put in custody is also a topic which divides.

Peter Clarke
Peter Clarke is the Children's Commissioner for Wales
The NCB believes the perception of a huge rise in youth crime has caused a marked increase in the amount of children being sent into custody.

It wants the government to follow the children's rights convention which states custody should be a last resort.

It also wants the government to honour its commitment to get tough on the causes of crime.

The lack of suitable youth institutions means young people are often sent far away from their families and communities, which the charity says does not serve the child or society.

Remand

"The government seems to be comfortable with children being in the criminal justice system," said Di Hart, the NCB's principal officer for children in public care.

"Youth custody institutions should be about rehabilitation but the high figures of re-offending show this does not work.

"We would urge the government to use custody as a last resort but there seems to be a growing trend for children to be remanded in custody, even on minor offences."

In the past decade 18 young people have committed suicide while being detained.

The Howard League for Penal Reform wants the Children's Act to cover people in custody, to protect what it calls some of the most vulnerable people in society.

See also:

04 Oct 02 | Politics
10 Jun 02 | Politics
07 Mar 02 | N Ireland
28 Nov 01 | Europe
08 Dec 01 | England
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