Heightened Risk of Child Trafficking “Deeply Concerning”

01 December 2021

Speaking ahead of the 2021 Children’s Law Centre Annual Lecture, UN Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons Especially in Women and Children, Professor Siobhán Mullally has raised her fears that the Nationality and Borders Bill will heighten the risk of trafficking and re-trafficking for child refugees.

Professor Mullally’s lecture will be delivered on Thursday 2nd December at 3:30pm and is titled ‘Responding to Child Trafficking: Rights Vs Rhetoric’. The lecture comes only a week after at least 27 people, including children, drowned crossing the English Channel. Following the tragedy, the UK Home Office was widely criticised for its hostile environment towards refugees and asylum seekers.

Speaking ahead of the lecture, Professor Mullally said: “The Nationality and Borders Bill is deeply concerning in its hostile approach towards refugees and asylum seekers. Immigration practitioners and human rights organisations have consistently raised concerns that the identification of victims of trafficking will become more difficult. Indeed, the Independent Anti-Slavery Commissioner has also made this very point. I have also officially written to the UK authorities, along with other relevant Special Rapporteurs, to highlight my concerns about the Nationality and Borders Bill and its compliance with the State’s obligations under international law to prevent trafficking in persons.

“There is little doubt that the risk of trafficking or re-trafficking will increase as a result of this Bill, particularly in relation to children. It will make it more difficult to identify victims or potential victims of trafficking, with changes to the ‘reasonable grounds threshold’ particularly concerning. It will also weaken access to services that meet the complex individual needs of victims of trafficking, and potentially treat child refugees as criminals.

“There is an established international rights framework set up to protect refugees and prevent trafficking. Such serious departure from this framework, coupled with the current rhetoric towards refugees, will have devastating consequences for people, including very vulnerable and traumatised children. Rather than address the refugee crisis and tackle trafficking, the Nationality and Borders Bill is a gift to people smugglers.”

Paddy Kelly, Director at the Children’s Law Centre added: “We are very pleased that Professor Mullally agreed to deliver our 2021 Annual Lecture. It comes at a critical moment where much of the good work carried out in this jurisdiction to tackle the causes and effects of child trafficking could be undone. It also highlights the importance of a strong rights framework, including domestic implementation of those rights in the protection of children. Just last week we witnessed the terrible impact of the failure to protect the rights of refugees and asylum seekers. Until we recommit to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, we will continue to fail child refugees.”

Download our briefing paper on the Nationality and Borders Bill

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Decade of Delay on Key Youth Justice Recommendations

23 November 2021

Children’s rights in Northern Ireland are being compromised by a failure to implement youth justice review recommendations

That’s the key message after the launch of a new expert led research report, jointly commissioned by four leading third-sector organisations – Children’s Law Centre, Include Youth, NIACRO and VOYPIC – Voice of Young People in Care.

Download the Report

The independent research, titled Tracing the Review: Developments in Youth Justice in Northern Ireland, was conducted by Dr Siobhan McAlister and Dr Nicola Carr, experts in the field of youth justice in this jurisdiction. It tracks the progress of several key recommendations made a decade ago in the Youth Justice Review and was launched in Parliament Buildings on Tuesday 23rd November at 1pm.

The new report draws particular attention to the lack of progress in relation to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, a key recommendation from the Youth Justice Review. It also outlines a number of key findings, including the need to ensure compliance with children’s rights and human rights standards.

Paddy Kelly, Director at the Children’s Law Centre said: “In this jurisdiction, we have one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in Europe, and indeed the world. The recommendation to raise the age of criminal responsibility is one of the key elements of the Youth Justice Review ten years ago but it has remained unimplemented. The UNCRC clearly recommends raising the age to 16 and the NI Executive has a duty to comply with UNCRC obligations. We cannot cherry pick children’s rights.

“Failure to raise the age has serious real world impacts on vulnerable children. Rather than addressing the failures that have pushed young people towards the criminal justice system, we are criminalising them. This in turn can have lifelong negative impacts, both on the children affected and the criminal justice system itself.”

Read the Report

Dr Paula Rodgers, Policy Co-Ordinator at Include Youth said: “The overuse of remand and the placement of children into custody remains areas of concern. The recommendations of the Review concerning the development of alternatives to custodial remand have not been brought forward, and such lack of alternatives remain a fundamental weakness in provision.

“Whilst numbers are small the simple fact is one young person held in custody is one too many. A further concern is that care experienced young people are disproportionately represented in these numbers and this is something that needs to change as a matter of urgency.”

Olwen Lyner, Chief Executive of NIACRO said: “Legislation should be brought forward to give effect to all aspects of Recommendation 21 of the Youth Justice Review, with respect to criminal records. This is particularly the case with respect to recommendation 21a of the Review “to ensure diversionary disposals do not attract a criminal record or be subject to employer or more general disclosure”.  

“Indeed, the recent judgment in relation to the judicial review on the Rehabilitation of Offenders and the necessary policy consultation that will follow, gives an opportunity for these issues to be dealt with.”

Alicia Toal, Chief Executive at VOYPIC, said: “Whilst overall numbers of children and young people held in custody have declined, we are concerned that children and young people from care continue to be over-represented amongst those on remand and in custody under PACE provisions.  Compliance with children’s rights standards would ensure that custody is only used as a measure of last resort.  This report highlights the need for urgent action from the Executive, to ensure better outcomes for all children across the region.”

Tracing the Review: Developments in Youth Justice in Northern Ireland 2011 – 2021

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Stop Recruiting Children, Rights Groups Tell MOD

23 June 2021

The Children’s Law Centre joined numerous human rights organisations in calling for the Ministry of Defence to end the recruitment of children to the UK military.

In a joint letter to the Defence Secretary, the groups call on the UK government to use the Armed Forces Bill debate at Westminster to raise the minimum recruitment age to 18.

The call comes as it emerges that girls under 18 in the armed forces have made 16 complaints of sexual assault to the military police since 2015.

The joint letter states that recruiting children from age 16 is “unambiguously incompatible with their rights and welfare”, as it draws them out of education early, exposes them to the “intense stress of military training”, and requires them to commit to “sweeping obligations that could not lawfully be imposed on a civilian worker of any age”.

  • The UK is the only country in Europe to recruit children from age 16 into the armed forces; more soldiers are recruited at 16 than any other age.
  • The latest recruitment figures show that in the year 2020-21, one in every five new recruits was legally a child; one in four in the army (3,280 under-18s were enlisted into the armed forces; 2,410 of them joined the army).
  • Signatories of the joint letter include: the Chilren’s Law Centre, the Children’s Commissioners for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland; Amnesty International UK; The Children’s Society; Human Rights Watch; Liberty; the National Education Union; and War Child.
  • New figures from the MoD show that, in the last six years, girls under the age of 18 in the armed forces have made 16 allegations of sexual assault to the military police, equivalent to 3 per year, or one for every 75 girls.
  • Most recruits under the age of 18 train at the Army Foundation College in Harrogate. Recruits at the College, and their parents, made 60 complaints of violent behaviour by staff between 2014 and 2020.

The letter argues that this simple step forward would set the same standard in the UK that it has asked of armed forces and groups around the world, and help to bring a global ban on the military use of children into view.

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‘Build Back Better’ with Children at the Heart of a Bill of Rights

29 April 2021

A Bill of Rights, with the inclusion of specific children’s rights, underpinned by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), could be transformative for children in Northern Ireland. It holds the possibility to address decades of failure for our children and young people, creating a framework for a brighter future.

Watch the Children’s Law Centre present evidence to the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights

The list of issues facing children in Northern Ireland was recently highlighted in an NGO stakeholder report to the UNCRC Committee. The report illustrated how decades of systemic failure around children’s rights have had a devastating impact on children’s lives, with COVID-19 further exacerbating problems. However, a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland would provide the perfect opportunity to build back better for children and wider society.

After presenting evidence to the NI Assembly’s Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights, Children’s Law Centre Director, Paddy Kelly, said:

“At the Children’s Law Centre, we firmly believe that a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland could provide a new dawn for children here. It could build on general rights protections in the Human Rights Act by incorporating child specific rights as laid out by the UNCRC, rights the UK has already signed up to but remain unenforceable.

“We could see age discrimination legislation finally enacted. It could give a voice to children in care, and it could protect children from harm. Every child should have the opportunity to reach their full potential. A Bill of Rights, with specific child rights provision, could achieve that.”

Read our written briefing to the Ad Hoc Bill of Rights Committee

The Children’s Law Centre’s Director continued: “There can be no doubt that children’s rights in Northern Ireland have fallen behind and children have come to harm because of this. The results are plain for everyone to see over the past year, where Covid has exposed a weak framework of protections. There could be no better way to begin building back better than by strengthening the rights protections for our future generations.

“We have the blueprint. The UK is already a signatory to the world’s most celebrated and most complete statement on children’s rights ever produced, containing civil, political, socio-economic and cultural rights. Let’s prove our commitment to these principles, and to our children and young people, by incorporating the UNCRC in to law through a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

“Where we’ve fallen behind in the past, let’s now lead the way.”

Notes: The Children’s Law Centre would like to thank Ms Moyne Anyadike-Danes for joining Paddy Kelly in presenting to the Ad Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights. The Children’s Law Centre are privileged to have worked closely over many years with Ms Anyadike-Danes in the vindication of children’s rights. She is one of the leading children’s law experts in the jurisdiction. We would also like to acknowledge the assistance of Ms Anyadike-Danes and her colleague Junior Counsel Nick Scott BL in the preparation of CLC’s written submission to the Ad Hoc Committee.

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Youth@CLC during a Pandemic

05 Jan 2021

During the COVID-19 Pandemic, Youth@CLC, youth advisory panel of the Children’s Law Centre, continued essential work on REE Rights Responder and REE Live Chat alongside legal experts within CLC and tech team, DAMGEO. The Youth Advocates have since been awarded Runners Up in the Pearson’s World Changer Awards, Business and Technology category 2020.

The Pearson World Changer Awards were aimed at young people who were taking their learning to the next level with the goal of making a positive impact on the world. Youth@CLC highlighted their passion and commitment to children’s rights alongside examples of the impact they have had and how their education has inspired and supported their work.

Despite the difficult circumstances faced by all throughout 2020, Youth@CLC were involved at all stages of continued REE development, from deciding what it should be called, what colours it should use, what information should be included and how to make it accessible. So far, REE Rights Responder has reached over 2000 young people and is continuing to be improved each day.

See the Winner’s Showcase here.

Orla McGinnity, youth advocate with youth@clc during the development of REE said: “I have learnt so much and am so grateful for my time in youth@CLC and I always looked forward to every meeting! It is crazy how little I knew about my rights before I joined! I miss everyone at CLC a lot and hope REE continues to grow, I feel so proud to have been a part of it.”

Sinead McSorley, Youth Participation and Advocacy Worker with the Children’s Law Centre said: “I am so delighted our youth advocates are being recognised for their contribution to the development of REE Rights Responder and REE Live Chat. We in the Children’s Law Centre believe that young people’s voices are crucial, especially when developing a service for all young people in Northern Ireland – we would not have been able to get this far without their help, support and critical eye. I could not be more proud or fortunate to have worked with such a great group.”

What is REE Rights Responder & REE Live Chat?

REE Rights Responder is the first online legal chatbot designed for young people under 18 to ask questions about their rights in Northern Ireland. We found that when we searched for information on young people’s rights in NI, we always found information that was specific to English Law or written in complicated legal terms. REE uses Artificial Intelligence to answer questions from young people on their rights relating to mental health, employment, homelessness, and more.

REE Rights Responder is always there, always safe, always right, always anonymous, always confidential and never judgmental.

REE can also direct young people with more complicated questions to speak to a live legal advisor through REE Live Chat, an online live chat service designed to connect young people with complex legal questions to a live legal advisor within the Children’s Law Centre or to other organisations for different types of support.

What’s next for Youth@CLC?

Youth@CLC hope that this project could affect policy change as young people have a right to know and understand their rights – we hope our impact so far gives government an incentive to implement compulsory rights awareness raising sessions in schools and in the community.

Our Youth Advocates hope to inspire other young people to get engaged in projects affecting change in their communities, particularly those which aim to improve the knowledge and understanding of rights.

Throughout 2021, youth@CLC will continue creating and developing new content, information and advice services for young people including for younger children. To find out more about the group and to get involved click here.

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