Timeline of Children’s Rights in the United Kingdom

The timeline of children’s rights in the United Kingdom involves a spate of events dating back to the 15th century. The various events that transpired to date are regarded as both political and grassroots in nature.

The British government upholds its stance that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) cannot be put into effect legally and is therefore ‘aspirational‘ only, despite the fact that a 2003 European Commission of Human Rights (a.k.a. Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms) ruling states that, “The human rights of children and the standards to which all governments must aspire in realising these rights for all children are set out in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”Roughly eighteen years following its enactment, the four Children’s Commissioners in the United Kingdom (including those for the three devolved administrations) have concurred in pushing for the adoption of the Convention into local legislation, thereby making children’s rights well recognized and legally binding.

Those lobbying against children’s rights often raise the spectre of rights without responsibilities. The children’s rights movementcontends otherwise, asserting that children have rights which adults, states and the government have a responsibility to uphold. In general, a 2008 report enounced that there had been no improvement in children’s rights in the United Kingdom since 2002. With a warning that there is a “widely held fear of children and young people” in the country, the report states: “The incessant portrayal of children as thugs and yobs” not only reinforces the fears of the public but also influences policy and legislation.”

The UNCRC defines children, for the purposes of the Convention, as individuals under the age 18, unless local legislation provides otherwise. In such essence, the timeline includes as children all those below the UK age of majority, which was set at 21 until 1971, when it was lowered to 18. Even though the Crown Dependencies of the Isle of ManGuernsey and Bailiwick of Jersey are not constitutionally part of the United Kingdom, the British government is liable for their foreign affairs and for that reason, it is equally responsible for their international treaty obligations, so the timeline includes some references to matters in those dependencies.

For a comprehensive listing of the significant eventualities in the United Kingdom as they relate to children’s rights, from pre-16th century to November of 2008, click on this link.

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