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11 December 2015

We take our human rights for granted – but they’re under threat

Moves to water down the rights of others can quickly be used against "our" own, warns Javed Khan.

By Javed Khan

Every day we use rights so embedded in our national psyche that we don’t give them a second thought. To say what we want, to have an education, to be with our families, even to vote. These are human rights many of us may take for granted. 

Keeping children safe and having the support they need, when they need it are just some of the children’s rights that underpin all of our work. Yet even in the UK some children are at risk of being deprived of their rights, many of which are set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

Earlier this year, the UK’s four Children’s Commissioners voiced major concerns about child labour, child trafficking, child sexual exploitation and other issues in this country. Their assessment found children are not being protected from these crimes. The Children’s Commissioners also highlighted how new policies and laws in the UK risk stripping children of their rights, especially the most vulnerable ones. Many policy changes are not taking into account the best interest of the child, including welfare reform, immigration and justice laws.

Just last week, our Locked Out report revealed thousands of children cannot see their fathers in prison, undermining the child’s right to family life. Some children get just two hours a month to spend with their dad.  As a father, the thought of my children not having my regular support, would be a bitter pill to swallow. Of course, we need to make sure individuals who break the law are punished for their actions, but innocent children shouldn’t feel they are being punished too. 

And it’s not just ‘our’ children who feel the brunt when rights are ignored.

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Tens of thousands of children are fleeing from different conflict zones, often alone with no family members to turn to,making them hugely vulnerable. Children separated from their family have a right to special protection from the state. But in some parts of the country, local authorities are at breaking point, barely able to cope with the high number children arriving in Britain who need support. The government must ensure funding is in place for these children to get specialist support, such as specialist support workers and loving foster parents.

Especially Syrian children urgently need support. Of the estimated 12 million Syrians displaced by war more than half are children. The UK is now offering sanctuary to some of those families and children; a right decision that would have been morally indefensible not to take. What’s missing is detail of how this will work in practice. The government should set out a strategic plan for resettlement of these refugees as soon as possible.

Third sector organisation’s like Barnardo’s could help to carry the load. Our skills and expertise allow us to provide specialist, tailored care to fit the unique needs of refugee children.

And it doesn’t end there.

Next year, the government will publish its proposals for changes to the Human Rights Act. The Act has proven its value in protecting children in many ways, including as witnesses during criminal proceedings.  Any plan that takes away or weakens our basic rights and freedoms would be concerning. It’s crucial that we continue to have a safety net to hold public bodies to account if they fail in their duties, especially for children.
And even if most of us are lucky to never find ourselves in a situation where the only thing that protects us from injustice is to claim our human rights, we should be thankful that they exist.

So I urge everyone to think about what life would be like without human rights and not to take them for granted. 

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