The UN watchdog on children’s rights has called for unaccompanied children in Britain to be given legal guardians.
The UN Committee on Rights of the Child examined the UK’s policies, practice and progress when it comes to ensuring that children’s rights are respected and protected.
The Committee called for the UK Government to “develop procedures and criteria to provide guidance to all relevant persons in authority for determining the best interests of the child in every area and for giving it due weight as a primary consideration.”
This has relevance for the way that asylum and human rights claims from unaccompanied children are dealt with; decisions made are frequently criticised for not taking into account a child’s best interests.
The Refugee Council believes that one of the best ways to help promote the best interests of lone children in the asylum system is to assign each child an independent guardian with legal powers who is able to speak up for the child, intervene in issues on their behalf and make sure their voice is heard in decisions which affect them.
The Committee echoed this view, recommending that the Government introduce statutory guardians for all unaccompanied children in Britain.
The UN watchdog also criticised the UK’s current policy which allows immigration officers to assess the age of asylum seekers claiming to be children, purely based on their appearance.
We’ve long called for this policy to change; a child’s future shouldn’t be decided on the basis of guesswork, especially when we know that immigration officers often guess incorrectly and many children are wrongly treated as adults as a result.
The Committee also echoes our calls for lone children to be able to reunite with their families. This means the Government should properly apply the current law which would help unaccompanied children in other European countries come and join their relatives who are already here, but the Committee also called for lone child refugees already in Britain to be allowed to bring their loved ones to come and join them in safety.
Refugee Council Head of Advocacy Dr. Lisa Doyle said: “This report provides welcome scrutiny of the UK Government’s somewhat patchy track record on how well it protects lone children who have fled here seeking safety.
“The verdict is clear: in many areas, the UK can and should be doing better. It’s vital Government Ministers heed this warning and take urgent steps to make sure that unaccompanied children’s safety, well being and best interests always come first.”