Today marks 15 years of the UK's Human Rights Act. But despite this important anniversary, the future of this vital safety net for vulnerable children is uncertain.
The basic essence of human rights is that they are universal and apply to all people regardless of their status or circumstances. Yet, there is a real fear, should the Government repeal the Act, that human rights in future will be restricted for certain groups, such as those caught up in the justice or immigration systems. Picking and choosing which groups have universal human rights will inevitably lead to the most vulnerable losing out, and could see children ripped apart from their families, or sent back to countries where their lives are at risk.
The Human Rights Act is the strongest tool in our armoury to advocate and fight on behalf of children. It protects children's fundamental rights in the UK, such as the rights to life, freedom of expression, and the right to family life and privacy, including participation in decisions. Importantly for children, who depend heavily on public services, it is a useful way for us to remind government at every level that it has to comply with these rights.
The Children's Society works to support children affected by poverty and neglect. Underpinning our work is a commitment to children's wellbeing, highlighting the need for children to have choice and autonomy in their lives, and to maintain high-quality family relationships. We regularly use the Human Rights Act, and particularly Article 8 - the right to family life - to highlight how disrupting relationships can have a significant impact on children's well-being. Two main groups who could be affected by repealing the Act are those with uncertain immigration status and those living in care.
For children who have come to the UK either with their families or on their own, the Human Rights Act is integral to protecting them. Children who are here on their own are particularly vulnerable. Through our work with these children, we find that many build close ties with foster families, communities, and other relationships. They make good progress in education and built a life for themselves here. For many, this is the only home they've known.
Jon is one such example. He fled to the UK on his own when he was seven after his father was tortured and murdered. He was initially granted a five-year residence permit but when his older brother applied for an extension, it was rejected. No decision was made on his case for another six years, leaving him without any documents and without leave to remain. This was despite the fact that the UK was the only home Jon knew and that he had no connections with and little knowledge of the country where he was born. Jon was finally granted leave to remain with help of a lawyer and The Children's Society, using the Human Rights Act's right to a family life, protecting him from being forcibly removed to a country of which he had no memory.
The Human Rights Act is also vital to protecting vulnerable teenagers in the care system. While children are put in care to promote their welfare, a significant proportion are placed miles from their families making important ongoing contact difficult. The right to family life is crucial for a child's healthy development. The Act provides the means needed to challenge the authorities to make sure children are not placed in care so far from their relatives that they cannot maintain these vital links and to move children closer to home when the authorities have placed them too far away.
Protecting human rights is critical to making sure that children in the UK -- regardless of where they come from -- are kept safe and have the childhood they are entitled to.