In response to a call for evidence from the Children’s Rights Alliance of England (CRAE), Humanists UK has voiced its concern that the UK Government is failing to sufficiently protect the rights of children in England. Focussing on development over the last year specifically, the submission draws particular attention to the place of religious discrimination in the school admissions system, the right of children within faith schools to receive accurate and inclusive Relationships and Sex Education (RSE), and the plight of children trapped in illegal, unregistered religious schools.
Working with former pupils of unregistered religious schools, Humanists UK has led the campaign in recent years to highlight and resolve the existence of these illegal settings. Noting the lack of any meaningful action by central government to address the problem, the response summarises the experience of the pupils at such schools and states:
‘it is easy to identify a wide range of rights that are violated by the current situation. These include, though are not limited to: the right for the institutions and facilities responsible for children’s care to conform with standards established by competent authorities, as enshrined in Article 3(3); the rights corresponding to the state’s duty to ensure to the maximum extent possible the development of children, as enshrined in Article 6; the right of the child to form and freely express their own views in matters concerning the child, as enshrined under Article 12; the right to freedom of expression, including freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas of all kinds as enshrined in Article 13; the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion enshrined in Article 14, which includes the right to manifests one’s beliefs; the right to protection from physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, as enshrined in Article 19; the right, of course, to education enshrined in Article 28, and for that education to be directed towards ‘the preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society’, as enshrined in Article 29; and the right to leisure, and to engage in play and recreational activities and participate freely in cultural life, as enshrined in Article 31.
‘There can be few other children in England whose rights are violated to this extent.’
Turning to registered schools, the response expresses concern about a potential opt out for faith schools contained within the new provisions for compulsory RSE in all English schools. The provisions state that the appropriateness of RSE must ‘have regard to the age and religious background of the pupils’, and the Government has confirmed that ‘faith schools will continue to be able to teach in accordance with the tenets of their faith’. Humanists UK has therefore stressed that:
‘The Government must make clear that regardless of the religious character of the school, RSE must be taught in line with the Equality Act 2010 and provide students with comprehensive, accurate, and unbiased information about contraceptives, STIs, abortion, gender identity, and sexual orientation, among other topics.’
Finally, the response to CRAE’s call for evidence notes that the Government’s proposals to remove existing limits on religious selection by free schools will only have the effect of increasing discrimination and segregation within the education system, as well as dampening social mobility and limiting the fair access of local families to their local schools.
Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘Consideration for the rights of children should be at the forefront of any and all decisions made by the Department for Education. Unfortunately, all too often we are seeing the rights of children being subjugated by the Government out of deference to the vested interests of religious organisations. This is entirely the wrong approach and the Government must correct it as soon as possible so that the rights of children across England are no longer violated with such alarming regularity.’
For further comment of information please contact Humanist s UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman on firstname.lastname@example.org or 0207 324 3078.
Read Humanists UK’s full response to CRAE’s call for evidence: https://humanism.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017-08-03-JH-CRAE-Call-for-Evidence-on-State-of-Childrens-Rights-2017.pdf
About Humanists UK
At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and campaigning work, we’re committed to creating a fair and equal society for all.
Humanists UK recently changed its name from the British Humanist Association: https://humanism.org.uk/2017/05/22/bha-becomes-humanists-uk/