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Criminal Care? · 21 Nov 2019

30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). The UNCRC was a ground-breaking document. It provides the most comprehensive statement of children’s rights ever produced and it remains the most widely-ratified human rights treaty in history.

The UNCRC contains 54 articles covering all aspects of children’s civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. It includes articles specifically aimed at children who come into contact with the criminal justice system (Articles 37 and 40) alongside the more general rights that apply to all children.

The UNCRC says that custody, both police custody and detention in prison, must be used as a last resort (Article 37). We believe that keeping children out of the system altogether is the best way of achieving this. This programme is a key part of our work to “stem the flow” of children into the criminal justice system and make custody truly a measure of last resort.

Despite having signed up to the UNCRC in 1990, successive Westminster governments have refused to incorporate the UNCRC into English law meaning that children are unable to enforce their UNCRC rights in an English court. In light of this failure, it is all the more important that those working with and for children are rights-conscious and do all they can to ensure children’s rights are respected and protected.

“The UNCRC includes preventing criminalisation of children and highlights the importance of this in protecting children.”
(National protocol on reducing criminalisation of looked-after children and care leavers)

To mark this important anniversary, the Howard League has published a briefing which looks at the work we have done to try to make the UNCRC rights a reality for all children. We will continue to do all we can to recognise and protect the rights of children by campaigning to keep them out of the criminal justice system and preventing unnecessary criminalisation.

Claire Sands

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