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Friday, August 20, 1999 Published at 10:12 GMT 11:12 UK


UK criticised over children's rights

1999 is the 10th anniversary of the Convention on Rights of the Child

by BBC social affairs producer Chris Hogg

The government has been criticised for not doing enough to ensure that young people can have their say on issues which affect them.

The BBC's Alison Holt Reports: "Article XII gives all children the right to have their voices heard"
The criticism, from the charity Article XII which is run by children for children, comes as ministers publish a report setting out their efforts to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Article XII promotes the rights of young people as set out in the Convention which gives it its name.

In recent months the group has been talking to hundreds of children across the UK, gathering evidence for the United Nations about how they feel they are treated.

"A lot of young people get a say on whether they have peas or carrots," says 14-year-old Francine Cole, "but not on the big issues which affect them in the future".

[ image: Anna Fisher says not enough has been done]
Anna Fisher says not enough has been done
Anna Fisher, 12, agrees. "We talked to young people in schools, hospitals, youth clubs, all over. No-one was convinced that the government is doing enough."

The last time that a UN committee examined the UK's progress in this area it identified serious concerns.

Under the Convention, adopted ten years ago, the government is required to protect and promote children's rights.

Five years ago the then government was told more work was needed to tackle a number of issues including violence against children, poverty and growing inequality.

Those in power, the committee claimed, were failing to acknowledge that children had a right to be consulted on issues which affect them.

'Not just good intentions'

Madeline Tearce from Save the Children and Health Minister, John Hutton discusss children's rights
The Health Minister John Hutton sets out the present government's efforts to address those concerns in Friday's report.

The minister denies it is simply a list of good intentions. "We're improving services to children right across the board" he says.

Plans to overhaul the care system to make it more responsive to children's needs and to try to reduce the risk of abuse are evidence, he believes, of the government's determination to learn from mistakes made in the past.

"It's important that we listen to children when we're formulating policy," he argues "to try to prevent the mistakes in the past, and we are doing that."

Tackling drugs

[ image: John Hutton says the government has greatly improved children's rights]
John Hutton says the government has greatly improved children's rights
The report outlines a range of initiatives the government has undertaken in the past two years.

'Sure Start' is a programme to provide support for 'under-3's' and their families in deprived areas, while 'Welfare to Work' is designed to reduce inequality.A ten year strategy for tackling drugs has been launched, and the government has begun a major programme to try to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies.

But campaigners believe the government needs to do much more.

The charity 'Save the Children' has also consulted young people in preparing its response to the government's report. It's disappointed that ministers still refuse to apply the Convention universally.

Policy adviser Madeleine Tearse deplores the fact that some young people are still detained in adult jails, and that asylum seekers and refugees are excluded from the protections offered by the convention.

"Save the Children is particularly concerned about vulnerable young people such as asylum seeking children and gypsies," she says. "Their rights remain neglected, nearly a decade after the convention came into force in the UK".

The government's report will be sent to Geneva in the coming months, along with the evidence collected by groups such as Article XII and Save the Children.

Five years ago ministers and officials were reported to be somewhat shocked by the robust criticisms of the UN committee. This time they'll be hoping their efforts will be received more favourably.

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