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Senedd tells Welsh Government: reform religion in schools to recognise children’s rights

The Welsh Government should publish a plan on how it intends to meet a list of outstanding recommendations made by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2016 within the next six months, says a new report by the Senedd’s Children, Young People, and Education Committee.

The report, which includes evidence from Wales Humanists, says the Government should restate its commitment to give ‘due regard to children’s rights in all decisions it makes’. It goes on to recommend that ministers should produce a strategic plan for and regularly update the Senedd on Wales’ progress towards meeting the most recent UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Concluding Observations. These outline how well countries are meeting their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and advocate changes that are required. For the UK, the most recent of these reports stated that compulsory worship in schools should be repealed.

The Senedd Committee report follows a public consultation on the impact of the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011, which was introduced to ensure the Government pays due regard to children’s rights in its policy making.

Wales Humanists – which has long campaigned against compulsory collective worship on the grounds that this violates the freedom of religion or belief of children and their families – welcomed the Senedd Committee report and urged the Welsh Government to take its recommendations on board. However, it expressed dismay that the cross-party group of Members of Senedd responsible for the report had stopped short of calling for the UNCRC to be fully incorporated into Welsh law, a step that would make children’s rights directly legally enforceable. In November 2019, the Scottish Government announced that it would  ‘incorporate the Convention into law to the maximum extent possible within the powers of the Scottish Parliament’ but the Senedd Committee argued it was ‘not the right time’ to make such changes in Wales.

The section of the report on the influence of Government spending on children’s rights features evidence from Wales Humanists on the lack of funding for NHS pastoral care for children with beliefs that fall outside of those covered by traditional (Christian) chaplaincy teams in hospitals, including those from non-religious backgrounds. On this issue, the report recommends that the Welsh Government ensure ‘legislative requirements in relation to children’s rights are fully and effectively reflected in its financial decisions across all portfolios’ and says it should amend its Budget Improvement Plan to make clear the steps it is taking to meet its duties on children’s rights.

Despite acknowledging children’s rights concerns, earlier this year the Welsh Minister for Education Kirsty Williams told the Senedd’s Petitions Committee that the Government wouldn’t be taking action on the issue of compulsory Christian worship in the current Senedd term. She said the Government must instead prioritise changes to the new curriculum.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham commented:

‘Over the past few years, Wales has made considerable progress on implementing policies which explicitly respect children’s rights. These include the abolition of the defence of reasonable punishment, which will see all violence against children outlawed, and the introduction of compulsory Relationships and Sexuality Education.

‘Despite these changes, there is still some way to go. In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that compulsory Christian worship violates children’s rights and should be scrapped. However, this outdated practice has been left out of the recent overhaul of the Welsh curriculum, meaning that children and young people will continue to be forced to participate in an activity that violates their freedom of religion or belief as long as their parents allow it.

‘We are disappointed that the Committee’s report stops short of recommending the full incorporation of the UNCRC into Welsh law, but hope the Welsh Government takes on some of its other recommendations on board. The suggestion that they develop a strategic plan outlining how the UN’s recommendations will be met and submit an annual progress report on this matter to the scrutiny of the Senedd is particularly welcome. If this happens, it will be a clear victory for children’s rights and could mark the beginning of the end for compulsory worship in Wales.’

Notes:

For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager at ruth@humanism.org.uk  or phone 020 7324 3000 or 07725 110 860.

Read the full report on Children’s Rights in Wales

Read our most recent article on the abolition of ‘reasonable punishment’ in Wales

Read our piece on the Welsh Government refusing to act on collective worship

Read more about our work on strengthening children’s rights

Read more about our work on collective worship

Read more about our work on equal access to pastoral support or chaplaincy

Wales Humanists is a part of Humanists UK. Humanists UK is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people. Powered by over 85,000 members and supporters, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. We provide ceremonies, pastoral care, education, and support services benefitting over a million people every year and our campaigns advance humanist thinking on ethical issues, human rights, and equal treatment for all.

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