Module 2 of the Covid-19 Public Inquiry highlights violations to children’s rights
*Covid Inquiry must recommend the UK Government immediately appoint a Cabinet minister with responsibility for children.
Today marked the Oral Closing Submissions of Module 2 of the Covid-19 Public Inquiry with leading Children’s Rights Organisations claiming children’s rights were ignored by ministers during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Led and represented by Barrister Rajiv Menon KC, the organisations claimed the impact on children, and the rights of children were not considered adequately or even at all, in many key decisions by the UK Government, the Scottish Government, the Welsh Government or the Northern Ireland Executive.
Barrister Menon KC stated that it was the “barrel that was rotten, and not just the odd apple” when it came to senior government officials making adult-centric decisions during the pandemic that were not in the best interest of children.
He continued: “The fact that children only featured to a limited extent in 32 days of evidence during module 2 is indicative of two key points: firstly, that children are a low political priority in an adult-centric Westminster and often invisible as far as core decision-making is concerned, and secondly that this invisibility was exacerbated during the pandemic.”
Barrister Menon KC called on the Chair to look beyond the “maverick personalities” who have seen the focus of media attention during this module, to the greater structural change that is needed to prevent another pandemic response which would fail children. He said: “If children are everybody’s responsibility, as Mr Gove intimated, then they are effectively nobody’s priority. That is the problem.”
Mr Menon then focused on the issues of school closures and social distancing rules, hindering children’s education, socialisation and ultimately, their freedoms. He said: “The short point we wish to make now is that although children have rights, and not just interests, under UK and international law, these rights were insufficiently considered by high-level political decision-makers during the pandemic.
“Consequently, children were deprived of their right to education, their right to play and their right to live free from harm. To recover, they need far more support than they are currently receiving from the state to redress the years of lost learning, lost freedoms, and lost hope. And they need the enforceability of their rights to be placed on a statutory footing.”
Save the Children Fund (SCUK) is participating as a Core Participant in Module 2 of the Covid-19 Inquiry, together with Just for Kids Law and the Children’s Rights Alliance for England (collectively referred to as the Children’s Rights Organisations (“CROs”)).
As Module II of the Covid-19 Inquiry comes to a close this week Dan Paskins, Director of UK Impact at Save the Children, has warned the UK Government it must act immediately to ensure someone is appointed to Cabinet who is responsible for children.
“The next time children’s rights can be explored again by the Covid-19 Inquiry will be at the earliest 2025. This means memories will fade and to avoid a disservice to the next generation the Inquiry must recommend the UK Government to implement changes as part of this module.
“This Inquiry has grilled those at the very top in the Covid-19 response these past few weeks and yet as it comes to a close we still have no reassurance that lessons have been learnt and children will be a political priority for the UK Government, “, Mr Paskins said.
“We’ve heard evidence from Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Matt Hancock and Rishi Sunak and none of these core decision makers could sufficiently explain exactly how children were adequately considered by them and their rights protected. We conclude from their evasive answers that they weren’t given much thought at all.
“We heard in evidence that children became invisible during the crisis. We heard ministers failing to recall their positions on important policy decisions such as free school meals. We heard ministers change the goalposts on their role. All of this is indicative of the lack of clear responsibility for children’s rights in government.
“Much of what needs to change is glaringly obvious and UK Government must act by appointing a dedicated member of the Cabinet for children and young people, as well as ensuring that Children Rights Impact Assessments are mandatory and conducted for any legislative decision in future like school closures. We would urge the chair Baroness Heather Hallett to make this recommendation to the UK Government. This would ensure that robust infrastructure is in place within Government policy-making to ensure we never again violate the rights of children that the UK has promised to uphold.
“We owe it to the Covid generation to stand up for their rights and tell the UK Government they cannot wait until the end of the Inquiry, they must make vital changes for children right now.”
For more information on Save the Children’s work on how the UK’s decision-makers considered children and young people during the Covid-19 pandemic read: What About The Children Report, Save the Children UK: sept-23-scuk-what-about-children-covid.pdf (savethechildren.org.uk)
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