Stormont Event Warns that NI Assembly Collapse is Harming a Generation of Children

24 October 2023

Key decision makers and politicians were warned, at an event organised by the Children’s Law Centre, that a generation of children and young people will be harmed unless a reformed Executive and Assembly delivers key children’s rights recommendations.

You can watch the full event on YouTube.

Delegates heard from leading children’s rights experts, as well as children and young people themselves, during a briefing event on the recent UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s concluding observations and recommendations – a report previously described as “damning”.

The UN report raises concern around the treatment and protection of children and young people, as well as a long list of recommendations. These include a recommendation to withdraw the harmful 2023-24 budget for Northern Ireland.

Speaking at the event, Paddy Kelly, Director at the Children’s Law Centre said:

“There is a real and serious risk of long-term damage to our children and young people. The list of challenges facing them today is growing and becoming endless.

“There can be no doubt that decision makers are failing to look after their best interests. The proof is in the report from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and in the endless stream of cuts to children’s services.

“It is past time for change. A restored Assembly and Executive should be working to implement these recommendations but instead we are seeing decisions being made at Westminster that are compounding the problems.

“We need a return to local decision making, followed by urgent Executive action, before the long-term damage to our children and young people becomes even more severe.”

The event also heard from Dr Deena Haydon, an independent research and policy consultant, Chris Quinn, the new Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Fergal McFerran, Policy and Advocacy Manager at CLC, and Youth@CLC member Ruby Campbell. The event was attended by MLAs, leading departmental officials, the NI Children’s Commissioner, leading children’s charities and human rights organisations.

At the event, Ruby Campbell addressed delegates as a young rapporteur from the Rights Here, Right Now children and young people’s conference held in September.

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Children’s Law Centre Support Young Person in Successful High Street Voucher Scheme Complaint

Equality Commission finds the Department for the Economy failed to fulfill equality duties
Children’s Law Centre supports the first ever complaint to the Equality Commission by a person under 18

An Equality Commission investigation into the High Street Voucher Scheme has found that the Department for the Economy failed to comply with its own Equality Scheme. The investigation found that the Department failed to screen at the earliest opportunity and that it failed to properly assess the impacts of the policy on children under 18.

Speaking after the investigation was concluded, Claire Kemp, Policy Officer at the Children’s Law Centre said:

“This is a really significant finding by the Equality Commission. The Children’s Law Centre repeatedly raised concerns at the time that the Department for the Economy had failed to properly comply with its own Equality Scheme. We have now been vindicated in that, but unfortunately around 450,000 children and young people have lost out in the meantime.

“The frustration now is that while the Equality Commission has made this finding, the young people have still lost out. The High Street Voucher Scheme was announced in April 2021 and it was clear at that point that the Department was intending to exclude under 18s with no basis for doing so. Yet it has taken almost two years to get to this point.

“Children and young people suffered during the pandemic like everyone else. Many of them contributed in the recovery and should have benefited from the High Street Voucher Scheme. Not only that, but providing vouchers to children and young people could have made a big difference in a lot of lives by providing essentials for disadvantaged children at a time when people were facing escalating hardship.

“Children and young people are no less deserving than anyone else in our society, yet they are repeatedly failed, forgotten and discriminated against. This finding should be a reminder to all government departments that they must take their equality duties seriously.”

The full investigation report and recommendations is available here
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An Update on the UNCRC Reporting Process 2022/23

13 February 2023

This year, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will report on the work carried out by the UK government and Northern Ireland Executive to protect children’s rights. This is to make sure they are fulfilling their obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The UK government signed up to the UNCRC in 1990 and it was ratified in 1991. By ratifying the UNCRC, the UK government have a duty under international law to make sure the rights of all children and young people in Northern Ireland are protected and to work towards making these rights reality in law.

The UK government must report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) every five years to explain how well they are protecting children’s rights in Northern Ireland. The Committee then makes concluding observations and recommendations for the UK government to implement.

The Children’s Law Centre (CLC) leads the Northern Ireland NGO sector in submitting evidence to inform the examination process. The Centre’s youth panel, Youth@CLC, also submits a children and young people’s report.

In December, CLC submitted three major reports to the Committee. The reports were developed in consultation with a wide range of NGOs, as well as over 1,000 children. They give an authoritative position on the state of children’s rights in Northern Ireland. Unfortunately, the picture is extremely worrying.

A number of the major recommendations from previous concluding observations remain unimplemented. These include raising the age of criminal responsibility, removing the defence of reasonable punishment, (finally) enacting a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, and introducing age discrimination legislation to protect children. These are all issues raised in 2016 that have still not been addressed.

Adding to this, subsequent years have become even more perilous for children and young people. Since 2016, we’ve had attacks on human rights from the UK government, uncertainty around rights protected by the Good Friday Agreement, escalating pressures on public services, the impact of Covid policies on vulnerable children, and a growing failure to protect newcomer children.

In addition, issues that did not feature in 2016 are now major concerns including the rising number of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children being held in unsuitable temporary accommodation. While concerns around the disproportionate numbers of children being stopped and searched remain, we now also have serious concerns around the strip searching of children and the use of ‘spit hoods’. Far from being protected and progressed, children’s rights have gone backwards.

When we look at the children and young people’s report submitted by our youth panel, Youth@CLC, we begin to understand why that is. One of the most damning statistics in their report is that only 15% of children and young people feel they are listened to by politicians. For 16 to 17 year olds, this figure drops to 9%. Decision makers simply aren’t listening and it’s little wonder children are being failed.

Listening to children and young people is the basic first step and it’s being missed. Once we listen, we quickly understand why fewer than half of the children who responded to our survey agreed they could quickly see a counsellor or specialist when they needed support for their mental health. In the words of one young person answering our survey: “From hearing friends talk about their experience with things like counsellors or CAMHS, it seems like it would make me feel worse or not work”.

The proportion able to quickly access mental health support was lower again for children on free school meals, children with a disability, and 16 to 17 year olds, all of whom are more likely to rely on the service. It’s clear, when it comes to mental health support, for example, we’re failing children. Or, as put more succinctly by one young person in a workshop: “CAMHS is shite, they put no time into helping you.”

The picture is similar across other areas. In schools, children tell us they’re being failed by not having standardised relationship and sexuality education (RSE). In care, we’re failing children by stigmatising them and failing to understand their particular needs. In the youth justice system, young people tell us the police don’t understand their mental health needs.

Disabled young people list a whole catalogue of ways they’re being failed within the school system and in the community, generally feeling less positive about their participation in society, their health and development and the opportunities they have available to them.

In February 2023, CLC led a delegation of children and young people, along with a number of other organisations, to meet with the Committee in Geneva to give evidence. Unfortunately, it was not an opportunity for them to show how children’s rights in Northern Ireland have progressed since 2016.

All three reports submitted to the Committee are available here, including a summary for children and young people of the Rights Here, Right Now report.

CLC would like to thank our youth panel, Youth@CLC, for helping us develop and submit the Rights Here, Right Now survey and report. We would like to thanks the 1,026 respondents to the survey, the 127 children and young people who took part in the workshops and the NGOs that contributed to the Stakeholder Report 2, and associated Stakeholder Report 2 Evidence.

Finally, we would like to thank Jerome Finnegan of Save the Children for his assistance in developing and analysing the survey and Dr Deena Haydon for her extensive work gathering, analysing and writing up the information presented in these reports.

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Universal Periodic Review

10 October 2022

The Children’s Law Centre has worked alongside the Children’s Rights Alliance England, Together Scotland and the Wales UNCRC Monitoring Group to produce a series of thematic briefings to inform the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

What is the Universal Periodic Review?

Approximately every four years, the UK’s overall human rights progress is assessed under the UPR.

The UPR is a process where the countries that are members of the UN Human Rights Council review the human rights progress of UN member states. The UPR is based on the UN Charter and all the UN human rights treaties that have been ratified the country under review.   

The UK will have its next UPR review in November 2022. Prior to the review, the UK Government submit a full report outlining steps it has taken to progress human rights since the its review. Other countries review this information and can make recommendations on where further improvements could be made. The aim of the UPR is to improve the overall human rights situation in each country and share best practice around the globe.

Civil society organisations can present their own reports as part of the process and CLC has worked closely alongside other children’s rights organisations in England, Scotland and Wales to draft the following briefings to assist in informing the review, in the context of the state of children’s rights in the UK:

General Measures of Implementation

Non-Discrimination and Participation

Child Poverty

Mental Health


Access to Justice


Policing and Child Justice System

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Youth@CLC Launch Children and Young People’s Survey

14 March 2022

Image of the 'Rights Here, Right Now' logo

Youth@CLC, the youth advisory panel at the Children’s Law Centre, has launched an important survey to collect opinions and first-hand experiences of children and young people as part of the UK reporting process to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The survey will be used to tell the UN Committee what matters to under-18s here, how their rights can be better protected, and their lives improved.

Image states: Tell us your thoughts. Click here to complete survey.

The survey can be found here and is open between 14th March and 14th April 2022. The results of the survey will inform a children and young people’s report to the UN Committee as part of the 2022-2023 reporting process. It will influence the outcome of the UN Committee’s examination of the UK government in 2023.

Children and young people can click here to find out more about children’s rights, the UNCRC and the survey.

CLC Youth Participation Worker, Sinead McSorley said: “This is a very important way for children and young people in this jurisdiction to feed into the UNCRC reporting process. Their experiences and opinions are key to understanding if the UK government is fulfilling the obligations it signed up for when it ratified the UNCRC in 1991. We know children’s rights have a massive impact on the lives of children and young people, from education and healthcare to leisure and youth justice. However, we can’t fully understand how well these rights are being protected, or where the gaps are, unless we get the views of as many under-18s as possible.”

Image of girl in wheel chair, with text reading: "Rights Here, Right Now. Children and Young People's Survey. For the young people's report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Open between 14th March - 14th April."

“The last UNCRC report was sent to the Committee in 2015, but so much has happened since then, including the UK’s decision to exit the European Union and the outbreak of COVID-19. It’s our experience, and the experience of a wide number of children’s organisations, that the gap in children’s rights here has grown into a chasm. It’s vital that we gather the views of children and young people to better inform our understanding.”

Wren, a member of Youth@CLC, said: “As part of the children and young people’s report, we will be carrying out a survey and holding workshops with some of the most vulnerable children and young people here to better understand where the government might be failing in its obligations. It’s really important that we gather as many views as possible to give children and young people a real voice. The reporting process doesn’t come around every year, so please make sure you don’t miss this opportunity to have your say.”

We have developed some materials for teachers and youth workers to prepare and assist children and young people to complete the survey:

The ‘Rights Here, Right Now’ survey is being conducted by Youth@CLC, with assistance from the Children’s Law Centre, Dr Deena Haydon and Save the Children NI

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