By guest blogger: Eden Howard
On Saturday 19th October the third young people’s event was held at the head office of Save the Children UK in Farringdon, London, marking the conclusion of this year’s Human Rights Tour. This event, which was organised by the British Institute of Human Rights, working in partnership with Big Voice London, Children’s Rights Alliance for England (CRAE) and Save the Children, engaged the bright minds of various young people on the topic of human rights with particular focus on the relevance of them for young people in the UK. I found myself impressed by the enthusiasm and insightful opinions of those who attended, with discussions ranging from the history of human rights legislation to complex global issues including the death penalty, euthanasia and the act of “sectioning” under the 1983 Mental Health Act
The day commenced with a presentation providing an overview of human rights law in the UK, focusing on the history of the our human rights, with the horrific events of the Second World War as the focal point for international recognition on the importance of human rights. The young people were then asked to consider which rights were incorporated into the Human Rights Act 1998 through a group activity involving an island society and deciding what would be essential rights we would want to see on our island. The first suggestion covered the idea of a democracy, perhaps with The Lord of the Flies in mind and ‘The right to free elections’, and from this other rights followed, including ‘The right to not suffer from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’ (Article 3) and ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ (Article 9)
The young people were then asked to talk about current issues that they had read about. Amongst the broad suggestions included the loss of autonomy through the act of “sectioning” under the 1983 Mental Health Act, thus engaging two significant rights ‘The right to liberty (article 5) ‘ and in some cases ‘The right to not suffer from torture or inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment (article 3)’. On this topic, the facilitators stressed that a paternalistic approach must be adopted and that where temporary procedures are enacted to protect an individual from harming themselves and/or others it is important to realise that ‘one does not leave their rights at the door’, therefore highlighting that regardless of the situation, a person’s rights are inalienable.
After lunch, we moved onto the main focus of the day: children’s rights, with specific emphasis on the Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international treaty that gives over 40 major rights to those under the age of 18 all over the world. Furthermore, the idea of ‘ratification’ was also covered, as although the UNCRC is not part of UK law, it was ratified in 1991 which means that the Government has agreed to do everything it can to protect children’s human rights. Amongst the interesting suggestions, it was highlighted that although those aged under 18 are not allowed to vote, the minimum age for army enrolment in the UK is 16 which sparked some lively discussions; many proposed a change in existing legislation.
Towards the end of the event the young people told us what they thought the Government should focus on improvements for young people in the UK. These thoughts varied from personal experiences of where people lived, for example those living in rural areas found that activities were aimed at very young children and the elderly and that for teenagers, very little existed for them to do in their free time. There was also an agreement on the importance of free music, especially in schools where often the cost of instruments and lessons can prevent children exploring music as an option.
Ultimately, this final young people’s event made for a engaging ending to the 2013 Human Rights Tour with the involvement of young people in diverse human rights issues, topped off by the designing of colourful human rights inspired bunting – a great success!