Q. What is the humanitarian view internationally of children’s rights?
June 1st is International Children’s Day. In 1925, The World Conference for the Well-being of Children in Geneva, Switzerland, proclaimed this as a special day for recognising the importance of children’s rights and wellbeing. The United Nations also promotes the welfare of children throughout the world with Universal Children’s Day on 20 November each year. The UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, is quoted as saying: “Every child has a right to survive and thrive, to be educated, to be free from violence and abuse, to participate and to be heard.”
Q. How do we support this in the UK?
The health, well-being and safety of children in circumstances where there is domestic abuse is recognised by Part IV of the Family Law Act 1996 where the Courts have the power to make an order to stop the abuse (non-molestation order) and seek to make the home a safe place for the victims to reside (occupation order).
Q. Have there been any changes to the law that reflect new ideas about children caught up in divorce, for example?
The Children Act 1989, as amended by the Children and Families Act 2014 seeks to broaden and give better support for children where their parents are separating. Since the 2014 Act came into force the Court no longer uses the labels of “residence” and “contact” but seeks to reflect what the arrangements are for the child so that orders of the Court or agreements between parents mirrors the time a child spends with each parent.
Q. What about the increased importance given to children having their own voice?
The voice of the child has become more established within our Courts. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says, “Children are not merely ‘adults in training’ but people who are able to form and express opinions, to participate in decision-making processes and to influence solutions.” More organisations are appearing who provide support in Court proceedings for children as young as two, such as the National Youth Advocacy Service and Triangle.
Q. How is this implemented in the Court process?
In the Family Court, children’s views are usually ascertained using CAFCASS (Children and Family Courts Advice and Support Service), which can report the child’s wishes and feelings to a Court or represent them as a Guardian. The views of a child are important and carry greater weight regarding the decision a Court makes the older the child is. We are fortunate that children’s rights are recognised in the UK and hope that this recognition is nurtured and progressed across the world when remembered each year on June 1st.