Various articles of the UNCRC provide for the right of the child to health and safety; Article 6 requires the state to guarantee to the highest level possible the survival and development of the child, Article 24 obliges the state to ensure the provision of necessary medical assistance and healthcare to all children, and under Article 27, every child has the right to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. Children who are refugees or asylum seekers, children with disabilities and those under the care of the state, are further protected by Articles 23, 24, 25. More specific rights are also provided under articles 36 and 39 for those children and young people who have been abused or harmed in an environment that fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child. Even with the criticality of health in the life of a human being, the implementation of these health and safety provisions leaves a lot to be desired.
There is enough awareness with regard to the health risks associated with smoking, drinking and drugs, information which was mostly acquired from talks by independent professionals as opposed to being taught in the school curriculum. A good 87% said they did not smoke, and 6% saying they did smoke. With regard to drinking, more than half said they did not take alcohol, with most of the rest saying the only took alcohol occasionally and under the supervision of their parents (CRAE 2011).
Most of the children receive information about reproductive health such as pregnancy, contraceptives and sexually transmitted diseases in science classes. However, this is not deemed enough as the UN Committee in 2008 called for more emphasis on personal relationships, making recommendations to the UK government to offer better sex education to children in their teenage years as opposed to just biological sexual health education (UN Committee 2008). Traveler children could not respond to questions regarding sex education and sexual health as the deemed them inappropriate. But granted that most of the children learn about reproductive health at school and given the poor state of school attendance by travelers’ children, it would only be logical to conclude that they have no adequate knowledge of reproductive health issues. Whereas the right to accessible healthcare under article 24 and the right to appropriate information under article 17 are much appreciated, a conflict arises when considering the right to enjoy culture and customs under article 30 which justifies the apprehensiveness of traveler children in their refusal to answer questions of this nature.
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The accessibility of information on sexual health by disabled children is another issue that has not been sufficiently addressed in the implementation of children’s right in the UK. Among those that participated in the survey by CRAE, two thirds said that they had no access to free contraceptives and had not received information on sexual health. Most of them also lack someone to talk to on issues regarding their reproductive health and relationships. The 2002 Concluding remarks by the UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child raised alarm on the rise in cases of teenage pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases among teenage children in the UK. Teenagers resort to night clubs in search for sexual health education, especially gay and lesbian sex education which has been stereotyped as being out of the norm.
Article 22 of the UNCRC provides that “States Parties shall take appropriate measures to ensure that a child who is seeking refugee status or who is considered a refugee in accordance with applicable international or domestic law and procedures shall, whether unaccompanied or accompanied by his or her parents or by any other person, receive appropriate protection and humanitarian assistance in the enjoyment of applicable rights set forth in the present Convention and in other international human rights or humanitarian instruments to which the said States are Parties”. In the UK, refugee children and those seeking asylum experience a lot of trouble as they have to wait for long before their residency applications to be processed. Some of the children wait up to five years wait up to five years for the decision on their residency status to be made, leading to delayed admission in schools and colleges. They are also subjected to a lot of trouble when they need to move locations as they always have to ask for permission from social services. This also means that long term plans cannot be made by them, leaving them worried, anxious and concerned about their future. Some children told CRAE that they were even unable to sleep at night because they were worried about the process of acquiring them residency status (CRAE 2011).
The UN Committee has on numerous occasions expressed concerns about the status of refugee children and those seeking asylum and the length of time they wait to have their applications processed. In the Committee report in 2002, it was noted that ongoing reforms on the asylum and the immigration system does not give any regard to children seeking asylum and refugee children (UN Committee, 2002).
Most children in the UK have little or no advice regarding their rights. This is evident as most children realized after talking to CRAE in 2011 that they were unable to access their rights in particular situations. An example of such situations is that working children were not paid overtime which they were legally entitled to, showing that children were not aware of their rights in the workplace. There is also a problem of minimum wage entitlement as most of the working older children are employed in informal settings. The UN Committee in 2002 raised concerns regarding the lack of a provision for a minimum wage and there was a recommendation for a reform of legislation and policies regarding the right to non-discrimination of children. The Committee also called for adults who work for and with children to be enlightened, through training, on matters regarding to children’s rights (UN Committee 1995, 2002 & 2008).
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There was a suggestion by children refugees and asylum seekers who spoke to CRAE in 2011 for more information to be provided on working conditions and wage entitlements especially because many young people had difficulty surviving on the limited amount of financial support provided by social services. This, added to the expenses of traveling to college and back and buying basic commodities, made learning commodities such as computers luxuries to them.
Article 28 of the UNCRC imposes a responsibility on states to provide all children with free primary education and a secondary education that provides general and vocational training opportunities, and if possible provide financial support to children to enable them achieve this right. Whereas most of the children have access to schools in the UK, there are other factors that hinder them from fully enjoying their right to education. One of the factors that have not been fully addressed and that is an impediment for children’s realisation of their rights is bullying, which makes children dislike school. The UN Committee in 2002 made a recommendation to the UK government to take appropriate measures to prevent bullying in schools as well as address other forms of violence that affect the enjoyment of children of their right to education and involve children in the implementation of these strategies (UN Committee, 2002). In 2008, the UN Committee again stressed on the importance of strengthening efforts to deal with bullying in schools to the UK government through teaching human rights, peace and tolerance (UN Committee, 2008). All children are entitled under article 19 of the UNCRC to protection from all forms of violence. Schools must therefore be on the fore front in respect for children’s rights. A third of the children in schools say that bullying is still a big crisis in schools they attend (CRAE, 2011). This is a clear indication that children’s rights have a long way to go in being achieved in the UK, and sadly, even in institutions of learning that should teach the importance of mutual respect.
Clearly, there is a lot that still needs to be done in implementation of children’s rights in the UK. Even two decades since the ratification of the UNCRC by the UK, the state of implementation of children’s rights enshrined in the UNCRC is still wanting. There has been laxity and clear unwillingness by the UK government to incorporate the provisions of the UNCRC in the local laws so as to give full effect of the provisions in the UNCRC. Vulnerable children such as the disabled, refugees and those seeking asylum have been the hardest hit by the disregard for children’s rights and have ended up being survivors who view their rights, if they are even aware of them, as privileges and not entitlements. Schools, the places which are supposed to portray the highest level of respect for human rights are no exception, with some of the worst forms of violations of children’s rights taking place in schools. Family settings also pose the question of whether children’s rights are really taken seriously in the UK, with children having little or no say as to how they want their life to be in the event of parental separation or divorced, most of the time losing contact with the parent they are not living with. Inadequate knowledge of their rights is also a major problem in the UK, with most of the children not being able to know what their rights are and how they would tell when their rights are being infringed upon. Most of the time, even when children are aware of their rights, they don’t know of the steps to take to seek redress and the barely available complaint mechanisms are visible biased and may lead to even more intimidation and more harm to children. Perhaps the biggest problem has been the lack of domestication of the provisions of the UNCRC, as year after year the UNCRC Committee makes similar recommendations over and over again, most which are rarely heeded by the UK government. All these factors serve to demonstrate that children’s rights are not given top priority in the UK.