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Welsh Government to publish plan on UN children’s rights targets, including abolition of compulsory worship

The Welsh Government has agreed to publish a plan outlining how it will meet a set of UN Committee recommendations on children’s rights that include the abolition of compulsory Christian worship in schools. It has also said it will regularly update the Senedd on its progress towards meeting these goals.

In a letter to the Chair of the Senned’s Children, Young People, and Education Committee, the Government accepted a number of recommendations relating to children’s rights that the Committee laid out in a report published this August. These included that the Government restate a commitment to children’s rights in all the decisions it makes, as well as publish ‘a detailed strategic response’ to the 2016 Concluding Observations of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child within the next six months, with annual updates to be laid before the Senedd on an annual basis after that.

The Concluding Observations 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 For the UK, the most recent of these reports stated that compulsory worship in schools should be repealed.

Wales Humanists, which has long campaigned for mandatory worship to be replaced with a requirement to hold inclusive assemblies that are suitable for pupils from all backgrounds, has welcomed the announcement, saying the decision to take on board the Senedd’s recommendations represents a significant step towards realising children’s rights in Wales. It nevertheless expressed concern that progress to date has been too slow, meaning that children across the country are being systematically denied their right to freedom of religion or belief as outlined in the UNCRC.

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.

Last month, Wales Humanists raised the issue of collective worship in its response to a call for evidence that will be used to shape the UN Committee’s next set of Concluding Observations. It also highlighted the failure of the Welsh Government to take steps to fully incorporate the UNCRC into law. This means that – unlike in Scotland, where a Bill to incorporate the UNCRC directly into law was recently introduced – Convention rights are not enforceable. The provisions are not legal protections that citizens can actually access.

Wales Humanists Coordinator Katy Riddick commented:

‘The Government’s decision to take on board these recommendations is to be welcomed and marks a significant step towards fully realising children’s rights in Wales.

‘However, we are concerned that progress is still far too slow, particularly when it comes to the protection of the right to freedom of religion or belief. For example, the decision not to take action on collective worship during the current Senedd term means that thousands of children will continue to be subject to this indoctrinatory practice. This is despite the fact that mandatory worship entirely undermines the rationale of the new Curriculum for Wales, especially the requirement to ensure that children and young people develop into ethical citizens of Wales and the world by understanding and exercising democratic and human rights.

‘What’s more, because the UNCRC is not incorporated into the law in Wales, children’s rights are not legally enforceable and thus risk being treated as an optional extra rather than fundamental human rights necessary for children to flourish. With this in mind, we urge the Government to not only take on board all of the recommendations outlined in the last set of Concluding Observations, but to take steps to directly incorporate the UNCRC into Welsh law at its earliest convenience.’

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 Government’s response to the Senedd report.

Read the full report on Children’s Rights in Wales.

Read our most recent article on the education law reforms urgently needed to protect children’s rights.

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.

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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