The Children’s Rights Alliance England (CRAE) have published their annual report on the state of children’s rights in England and Wales.
The report concludes that the way children in conflict with the law are treated is still in need of urgent reform. There are several areas where children’s rights are not being upheld and where, despite the ‘child-first’ approach opined by police chiefs and authors of previous youth justice reviews, these are not the realities experienced by the effected children. Some of the most relevant findings of the report are:
- The age of criminal responsibility is still too low and the government declined to support a private members bill to increase the age to 12.
- Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) children are disproportionately represented throughout the youth justice system and problem is getting worse – BAME children account for 45% of the custodial population despite making up 18% of the 10-17 general population.
- There has been recognition of the fact that youth court work involves complex and skilled knowledge and expertise with potentially life changing implications for the child involved. This has led to a regulatory change for barristers practising in the youth court, who now have to certify that they are competent to do so. However, remuneration and status for this work is unacceptably low.
- The youth secure estate remains unsafe for children with increased levels of use of force, self harm, assaults in prison and children in custody being denied access to basic hygiene (At Feltham YOI only 60% of boys said they could have a shower every day). There is also mounting concern about over the use of solitary confinement.
- Police use of Tasers against children is increasing, with 871 uses in 2017 and 839 in the first 9 months of 2018. Tasers were used on children as young as 12 and on 4 occasions children under 10. Tasers were used disproportionately against children from BAME backgrounds, with BAME children accounting for 51% of Taser use (68% by the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS)).
- The use of spit-hoods is increasing year-on-year as more police forces roll out their use. Spit-hoods were found to be used on children as young as 10, with at least 47 uses on children in 2017 and 114 incidents in the first nine months of 2018, although the true figure is likely to be much higher. Across the whole period requested for 2017 and 2018, BAME children accounted for 34% of spit-hood use nationally and 72% of MPS use.
The report finds little evidence of progress on children’s rights issues over the past year, suggesting that a focus on Brexit is reducing government’s ability to address issues such as rising exclusions from school, mental health problems and child poverty. This means children’s basic needs and development such as their right to feel safe and be protected from abuse, have a roof over their head and play are being side-lined. The report also highlights the disproportionate use of tasers and spit-hoods on BAME children.