Following the EU referendum, every effort must be made to protect and promote children’s rights

In response to the EU Referendum result, children’s organisations in the UK’s four nations are calling on the UK governments and European Union to: protect the rights of children and young people; ensure that children and young people are meaningfully involved in decisions that will shape the future of the UK and the EU; and mitigate any negative impact that the result may have on children, young people and families from other European countries who currently live in the UK.

The work of Children in Scotland, Children England, Children in Northern Ireland and Children in Wales is underpinned by the rights enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), along with an ethos to work collaboratively with partners throughout Europe as active members of the panEuropean advocacy network Eurochild.

Under Article 12 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, children and young people have the right to participate in decisions that affect them. The UK ratified this in 1991. It is therefore obliged to ensure these rights are realised for all children in the UK and to support international cooperation for the realisation of children’s rights across the world.

Despite the fact that young people across the UK are able to get married, join the armed forces and be in full-time employment, 16 and 17 year olds, including those who were able to vote in the Scottish Parliament elections just a few weeks ago, were denied the right to have their say in the most important decision of recent times – one that will have far-reaching consequences for their future.

It is imperative that the voices of children and young people are heard loudly and clearly at such a crucial time in shaping the future of the UK, and indeed the EU.

Throughout the UK, 75% of voters aged 18-24 voted to remain in the EU.

In order to have active and engaged citizens, it is vital that devolved and UK governments proactively engage with children and young people immediately to prevent potential disengagement and disenfranchisement. They must ensure that every policy and legislative decision made from this point onwards helps to address the concerns of these young people.

The long-term impact of this decision on European families who have made their home in Britain remains to be seen. However there have already been reports of citizens being subject to racist and xenophobic abuse. Hate crime has no place in our society. This message must be communicated widely, clearly and definitively. All children should have the opportunity to grow up happy, healthy and confident – and recognised as individual rights holders.

The UK electorate’s vote to leave the EU opens a period of uncertainty and instability on both sides of the Channel. While attention will clearly focus on reassuring the markets and stabilising the economy, Eurochild argues that our political leadership must also address growing inequality and disaffection in our societies. We and our membership networks agree wholeheartedly with this view. Dangerous levels of social division are prevalent across Europe. This is toxic to childhood and our democracies. If politicians are serious about bridging that divide, children’s rights and the fight against child poverty must take centre stage.

With respect to ending child poverty and promoting children’s wellbeing we broadly know what works. We can compare and contrast performance across countries, and identify effective policies and practices. The European Union itself has documented this analysis in a policy framework, its Recommendation on Investing in Children, which has achieved a consensus across civil society, academics and policymakers. We know we need a long-term approach, with balanced attention to financial resources and service provision. Critically, children need to be recognised as agents of change, not passive recipients of support.

Wherever the negotiations lead us, it is children and young people who have the greatest stake in our countries’ future. Children are not future citizens, they are citizens now and they will face the consequences of decisions over which they have little or no influence. It is time for politicians of all parties to unite around a common moral purpose of ending child poverty. Only then will we build truly inclusive societies where everybody has an equal opportunity to fulfill their potential.

Jackie Brock, Chief Executive, Children in Scotland
Kathy Evans, Chief Executive, Children England
Jana Hainsworth, Secretary General, Eurochild
Pauline Leeson, Chief Executive, Children in Northern Ireland
Catriona Williams OBE, Chief Executive, Children in Wales

Also supported by

Louise King, Director, CRAE (Children’s Rights Alliance for England)