Leading UK charities have called on the government to act upon its promise of ending its discriminatory treatment of children seeking asylum.
On 22 September, Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, announced that the government would remove its immigration reservation on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
This reservation, which the UK entered into when it ratified the convention in 1991, restricts the rights of all children who are subject to immigration control. Most notably, it has led to the detention of an estimated 2,000 children for immigration reasons each year.
Following the government announcement, Bail for Immigration Detainees, a leading detainee rights charity, called on the government to ‘transform this rhetoric into reality’ and to put an end to the ‘national scandal’ of child detention.
The Refugee Council welcomed the promise to end what it termed ‘a discriminatory approach to children’s rights’ and voiced its hope that the ‘appalling practice’ of detaining children would come to an end.
It was reported at the time that the government deliberately made the announcement to coincide with what was expected to be an embarrassing censure by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child on the UK’s treatment of migrant children. The UK sat before the committee the day after the announcement was made and the Committee’s report on the UK was released last Friday, 3 October.
The committee’s concluding remarks reflect these last minute developments by recording its welcome of the UK’s decision to remove its reservations on the convention (including a second reservation on children in custody). However, it still voiced concern about the continuing ‘discrimination and social stigmatization’ experienced by certain groups of children, including asylum seeking and refugee children.
The UK’s record on child detention has been in the headlines repeatedly over the last few months. Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the Children’s Commissioner for England, said on 4 September that ‘the UK has one of the worst records in Europe for detaining children’ and criticised the system of detaining children for immigration purposes as ‘inhuman’.