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BHA welcomes Children and Families Bill but calls for further strengthening of children’s rights

The British Humanist Association (BHA) has submitted evidence to the Public Bill Committee of the Children and Families Bill. On Monday the BHA also submitted a response to the public reading of the Bill, the same day as it had its Second Reading in the House of Commons. In its submissions, the BHA has welcomed the Bill’s strengthening the remit and independence of the Children’s Commissioner, particularly with regard to children’s rights, but believes that further steps need to be taken.

The Bill proposes to refocus the Children’s Commissioner’s role around ‘promoting and protecting the rights of children in England’, which includes ‘monitor[ing] the implementation in England of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child’. The Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded that ‘the proposed reforms constitute a very significant development with the potential to transform the Office of Children’s Commissioner into a national human rights institution capable of becoming an international example of best practice if sufficiently well-resourced.’ This is a conclusion that the BHA agrees with. However, the BHA also believes that the UN Convention should be incorporated directly into UK law – a move which would strengthen children’s rights in a number of areas. The BHA is a member of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) and Rights of the Child UK (ROCK).

One particular area of children’s rights that the BHA has brought to the attention of the Committee is the issue of parental opt outs in Religious Education (RE), Collective Worship and sex education. Currently UK law allows parents whose children attend state schools to opt them out of these subjects up until the child leaves school, in the case of RE and sex education outside of Science, or the end of compulsory school age, in the case of Collective Worship. The BHA believes that these age limits are incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights and the related ‘Gillick principles’, which have together established that rights should generally transfer from parents to children as soon as a child obtains sufficient intelligence and understanding to make their own mature decisions. As a result, the age limits should be lowered.

BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘We welcome the Children and Families Bill’s strengthening the role of the Children’s Commissioner, including requiring her to monitor the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into UK law. However, we believe the Bill should go further – it should bring the Convention into UK law wholesale. Young people, once sufficiently intelligent and mature, are just as entitled to exercise that intelligence and maturity as everyone else, and as things stand are particularly vulnerable to having their rights infringed by laws and society.

‘On a related note, we are particularly concerned that children’s rights are routinely infringed when it comes to opt outs from RE, Collective Worship and sex education. It is not right that a child is required to attend religious assemblies because, while she is an atheist, her parents are religious. Similarly it is not right that parents can opt children out of sex education, even once those children are mature enough to understand what is being taught and come to their own decisions around sexual health. This area of law is in urgent need of reform.’

Notes

For further comment or information contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs, at pavan@humanism.org.uk or on 0773 843 5059.

Visit the Children and Families Bill 2013’s page on the Parliament website: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2012-13/childrenandfamilies.html

Read the BHA’s submission to the Public Bill Committee: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmpublic/childrenandfamilies/memo/cf02.htm

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on children’s rights: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/human-rights-and-equality/realising-human-rights-and-equality/childrens-rights/

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on PSHE and sex and relationships education: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/pshe-and-sex-and-relationships-education/

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on Religious Education: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/school-curriculum/religious-education/

Read more about the BHA’s campaigns work on Collective Worship: http://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/collective-worship/

The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.

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