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All Babies Have the Right to the Best Start in Life - It's Time for Us to Ensure They Get It

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This week I chaired an event on babies' rights. You can be forgiven for thinking that sounds a bit abstract and woolly because it does. But the shocking truth is that babies are eight times more likely to be killed than any other age group in childhood.

That single statistic shows just how vulnerable babies are. And in England, although only 7% of children are babies, a huge 45% of serious child protection case reviews relate to children under one.

And whilst most of us agree that babies should be loved, nurtured, and protected from harm, we don't always think about babies having a right to these things or that adults should be protecting those rights.

It's now 20 years since the UK government signed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), agreeing to protect the rights of children and to be held accountable for doing so. This anniversary is a good moment to reflect on how we're currently protecting children's rights in the UK.

The convention gives all children the right to protection from violence. Abuse and neglect of babies is especially damaging because their brains are still developing and because they cannot seek help. This not only means they're more likely to suffer abuse, but that the damage can be profound and have lifelong consequences.

Because of this, babies are a priority for the NSPCC and our All Babies Count campaign is highlighting the vulnerability of babies, and calling for more support for them and their families. It makes sense, therefore, for us to think about the rights of babies - the youngest and most vulnerable members of our society.

Looking at babies' lives through the lens of the UNCRC shows a pretty poor picture. For nearly every right named in the convention, we can find evidence that babies are missing out.

The convention states that governments should help parents and guardians to bring up their children, and we know that the way that parents interact with babies is incredibly important for their development.

Good quality antenatal education is invaluable in helping mums and dads prepare for parenthood and learn about looking after their baby. Yet many parents get very little information, support and advice from public services about how to care for and bond with their baby. Maternity services are stretched, and despite the best of intentions, they often have to focus on the medical aspects of birth. This fails to help people understand the reality of becoming a parent and the ongoing care their baby needs.

It also fails to reach many parents. In 2010, 42% of new mums reported that they were not offered NHS antenatal education, or that classes were over-subscribed. And a recent survey by the Royal College of Midwives and Netmums found that nearly three quarters of mothers in low income households did not attend antenatal classes. This suggests that the most vulnerable women in society are even less likely to get the support they need.

And the list of rights that are not realised for babies goes on and on. Babies have a right to have their interests taken into account in cases of fostering or adoption. Yet decisions about taking children into care, and adoption processes, often take a long time, depriving children of a safe and secure environment at a critical time in their lives.

Babies have the right to benefit from social security, yet the benefits for families, especially those in pregnancy and early years, are being cut, and younger children (those under four) are more likely to be in poverty than older children.

Babies have the right to protection from illicit drugs, yet around 100,000 babies across the UK right now are living in households affected by drug and alcohol abuse, and there is insufficient support for these families to care for their children.

All of this paints a very negative picture, so we mustn't forget that great progress has been made since the government signed up to the Convention on Children's Rights 20 years ago. However, clearly there is much more to be done. All babies have the right to the best start in life, and it's time for us to ensure they get it.

The NSPCC is campaigning to protect babies from harm with its All Babies Count campaign. You can sign their pledge at www.nspcc.org.uk/allbabiescount

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