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EDITIONS
Monday, 10 June, 2002, 15:07 GMT 16:07 UK
Children give views in Parliament
Children's rights campaigners on a march
Children's rights is the aim of a long running campaign
Children have rights and adults should sit up and take notice of them was the message as six youngsters made history at Westminster.

The group, aged between 10 and 16, were the first youngsters to give their views in Parliament as they argued the UK should have new children's rights commissioner.


This just shows the extent to which this government does not respect children and young people

Fred Tyson Brown
Children's Rights Alliance
The group proved outspoken critics of some government policies, with one of them even calling some of Home Secretary David Blunkett's comments racist.

The young people, from the Children's Rights Alliance for England (CRAE), were giving evidence to the joint committee on human rights, as it examines whether the UK should have a new human rights commission.

Young people needed more information about their rights, they told a committee of MPs and peers, and were too often stereotyped as thieves.

Ministers put under fire

Fred Tyson Brown, 14, from Wimbourne in Dorset, argued the issue should be taught as part of the national curriculum.

He was scathing about parts of the government's record.

"Many children of particular groups, cultures and religions are being ignored and dismissed by the government," said Fred.

Jean Corston, committee chairman
Jean Corston praised the youngsters' views

That was particularly true of refugee children, he argued, describing the government's treatment of them as "dreadful".

"This is shown by, in my view, the racist remarks of David Blunkett on the subject of 'swamping'," Fred continued.

"This just shows the extent to which this government does not respect children and young people."

'Portrayed as thieves'

Andy Butler, 15, from Huddersfield, argued a children's rights commissioner could help forge a new culture of respect for young people and counter media misrepresentation.

They could work on turning round the idea that youngsters had no rights and were "violent good for nothings".

"Too often in serious decisions that will affect us heavily we are left out of the decision and then people wonder why we are not enthusiastic about it," said Andy.

"For example, when new youth centres are opened, most of the time we are not asked about whereabouts we would like it but we are asked to choose the colour of the walls and the floor."

That failed to take account of part of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said.

One article of that convention stressed that children had a right to express their views on decisions affecting them and be listened to by adults.

James Sweeney, 16, from Stafford, said he was an "unproud example" of the 80% of people who left care with out qualifications.

Human rights worries

He said not enough support and information was given for people in care, who had not been involved in major decisions about their lives.

The group's performance clearly impressed the committee of MPs and peers.

Chairing the hearing, Labour MP Jean Corston told them: "Those who have heard you today will know that our decision to ask you to come along to give your views was entirely right.

"We have gained a lot from you, particularly you talking not just about your own experiences but those of your friends."

Ms Corston said debate on human rights rarely extended to children and as a mother and grandmother it seemed right to her to look at the issue.

The hearing was part of the committee's inquiry into the need for a human rights commission for the UK.

There are already commissions on race, sex and disability discrimination.

See also:

07 Mar 02 | N Ireland
28 Nov 01 | Europe
08 Dec 01 | England
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