Page last updated at 08:15 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 09:15 UK

Children's champion voices worry

young people
The report said some aspects of children's lives had become worse

Too many teenagers are jailed in Scotland, the country's children's commissioner has said.

Kathleen Marshall has highlighted her concerns in a report to the United Nations on children's rights

She also said family support agencies were struggling to cope with alcohol and drug abuse among young people.

The report added that improvements had been made since 2002 - but she warned some areas had become "worse" for the country's one million children.

The report, published on Monday, will be handed to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva.

The work was carried out jointly by commissioners in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England.

In addition, Prof Marshall said an unhealthy climate was holding back children's development - citing the "mosquito" device, intended to keep teenagers away by emitting a noise only they can hear.

She said: "In particular, we still lock up too many young people aged 16 and 17 in Scottish prisons.

"There is a widespread fear of contact with children and young people in Scotland, borne out by our own research, which has created an unhealthy climate that limits opportunities for play and leisure and hampers healthy development.

"Scotland's health record continues to be appalling and although there are now some government strategies to address this, much remains to be done."

She said alcohol and drug abuse had a "serious impact" on young people, warning that "family support systems are finding it difficult to cope".

Prof Marshall said Scotland was leading the way in juvenile justice and the treatment of young asylum seekers.

She said: "In Scotland we're getting some things right.

"Our separate legal system has meant that we've been able to develop a different - and better - approach compared to the rest of the UK on some issues such as juvenile justice, through the Children's Hearing System."

She added: "The Scottish Government has spoken out against unacceptable methods of forced removal of children and set a lead in allowing asylum seekers access to further or higher education.

"This is something we'd like to see implemented UK-wide."

Culture of fear

The report found common problems across the UK, including a gulf between treatment of rich and poor families.

It also highlighted the "failure" to ban the physical punishment of children.

Children's minister Adam Ingram said the report was "very helpful" in highlighting problems that had to be addressed.

He told BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland programme: "We are failing too many of our children in Scotland, we have endemic poverty which is affecting one in four, one in five, of our children.

"And we seem to have engendered a culture of fear - fear that children may be harmed on the one hand, and a fear of children and offending behaviour on the other."

But he said matters had to be kept in proportion and the extent of offending behaviour was not as great as was made out.

He agreed with the report that too many 16 and 17 year olds were locked up.

Mr Ingram said Justice minister Kenny MacAskill had acted to stop the practice of remanding youngsters in prisons and the children's hearing system was also being scrutinised.

The UK is obliged to submit progress reports since signing up to the UN convention in 1992.

UN representatives will visit the UK to see for themselves the evidence outlined in the report.

A final report - due in autumn - will assess how the UK is coping and set out recommendations for future action.

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