Children’s rights: back in sharp focus

Published 06/10/2021   |   Last Updated 11/10/2021   |   Reading Time minutes

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to raise big children’s rights issues in Wales. Clear examples of how this is playing out include questions like:

  • What the rules say if a 12-15 year old wants to have a COVID-19 vaccine, but their parents don’t want them to?
  • Whether there was enough of a focus on children’s rights to their education when decisions were made about closing school premises as part of measures to prevent the virus spreading?
  • Will children and young people have had their fair share of the Welsh Government’s £811 million in-year COVID funding for 2021-22 which is being allocated as demands arise?

The Children’s Commissioner for Wales’ principal aim is to safeguard and promote the rights and welfare of children. In her final Annual Report as Commissioner, Sally Holland gives her verdict about what 2020-21 meant for children’s rights in Wales. It also examines whether the Welsh Government is doing enough.

Some of the main issues that Sally Holland talks about are:

  • the longstanding challenges children and young people face to get the right mental health support when they need it;
  • making sure children whose parents choose to educate them at home don’t go under the radar; and
  • her concerns about profits being made from children’s social care.

Members of the Senedd will have their say on these and the wide range of other issues in the report when it is debated next Tuesday (12 October).

What rights do children have in Wales?

The United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is made up of 54 articles. These set out a wide range of rights for children and young people up to 18 years of age, including rights to protection, health, family, education, culture and leisure. The Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 means the Welsh Ministers need to give ‘due regard’ to the UNCRC in everything they do.

Children and young people’s right to be listened to

Under the UNCRC, children have the right to express their views about things that affect them and to have their opinions taken into account when decisions are made. One of the Commissioner’s main priorities when the pandemic began was to “make sure that children and young people are listened to”. Her Annual Report refers to the 44,000 children and young people from across Wales that took part in the Commissioner’s Office “Coronavirus and Us” surveys.

The Coronavirus and Me Results were published in May 2020. Over 23,700 children and young people aged 3-18 took part in the survey. The three most common responses from 12-18 year olds about the impact of Covid were:

  • not being able to spend time with friends;
  • not being able to visit family members; and
  • schools and colleges closing.

The follow up Covid survey of 20,000 children in January 2021 had the same top three responses as the 2020 survey. Children and young people’s top three priorities were having:

  • support to make you feel happy and well;
  • support to do school work; and
  • more information on things to do when you are staying at home.

A new Children’s Commissioner

Although this is Sally Holland’s final Annual Report following nearly seven years as Commissioner, Tuesday’s debate will be the first time this Sixth Senedd will consider a Children’s Commissioner’s view on the progress of children’s rights in Wales.

Members will also have an eye on who will be appointed as her successor. The Welsh Government rejected a recommendation from the Fifth Senedd’s Children, Young People and Education Committee that responsibility for the appointment, accountability, and funding of the Children’s Commissioner for Wales should be transferred from the Welsh Government to the Senedd at the earliest opportunity.

You can watch Senedd Members debate children and young people’s rights in Wales on Senedd TV next Tuesday afternoon 12 October.

Article by Sian Thomas, Senedd Research, Welsh Parliament