UK government criticised for failing to protect the most vulnerable children

by zoejardiniere

09.11.2012 A report published this week by the UK Commons Select Education Committee has criticised the level of protection afforded to the UK’s most vulnerable children. The sections of the report dealing with trafficked children and refugee and asylum seeking children are where some of the strongest criticism emerges.

The authors of the report remain unconvinced that the UK Border Agency (UKBA) puts the rights of children at the core of its activities, and believe that that destitution may have been used as a means to try to persuade asylum seekers to leave the UK.

In particular, the ‘culture of disbelief’ that exists within UKBA in its assessment of the age of asylum seekers was strongly criticised. Research from the organisation End Child Prostitution and Trafficking Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT) suggests that officials are all too willing to see children as “lying to get asylum benefits”, which leads to poor decision-making.

Often, the report argues, children’s age is doubted, which can result in children being kept in inappropriate facilities or being denied the care they need. The British Refugee Council has called for a presumption in favour of the asylum seekers who claim to be underage at the initial screening stage. Judith Dennis of the British Refugee Council has said that testaments from young people who had experienced it, suggest that the fact of being disbelieved can be just as harmful as the consequences of the decision on the mental state of the young people concerned.

Furthermore, the National Referral Mechanism (NRM), the framework for identifying victims of human trafficking, was criticised by ECPAT members for criminalising victims of trafficking and recommend that its management be removed from the control of the UKBA. Primacy, it is argued, should be given to children’s welfare over their immigration status.

The report draws on research and reports from many organisations, including the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), End Child Prostitution and Trafficking Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT UK), the British Refugee Council and the Refugee Children’s Consortium.

For further information:

–         House of Commons, Home Affairs Committee  The work of UK Border Agency (April – June 2012)

–         Bronstein, I., Montgomery, P. and Dobrowolski, S., PTSD in Asylum-Seeking Male Adolescents From Afghanistan, Journal of Traumatic Stress, 25: 551–557, October 2012.

–         Community Care, How research on unaccompanied asylum-seeking children should inform practice and placement type, November 2012.