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UK in 'breach' of UN child rights pact
UNICEF children's fund says 45 per cent of under-18s detained over riots in Britain had no prior criminal history.
Last Modified: 10 Oct 2011 12:00
A total of 2,987 people were arrested across the UK during the August unrest in the country [Reuters]

The UN children's fund has criticised Britain for jailing children allegedly involved in the August riots and warned ministers that they are likely to be in breach of their UN obligations to children's rights.

Unicef said official figures showed that 45 per cent of under-18s detained on charges of rioting and looting during the unrest had no previous criminal history.

The UN body described the UK judiciary's measure as "very worrying", which represented a possible breach of the 1989 UN convention on the rights of a child.

"We urge those in charge of responding to the riots not to blame children's rights, but to respect them"

- UNICEF

Unicef's UK branch said in a statement on Monday: "The UN convention on the rights of the child [CRC] is clear in article 37 that the detention of children should only happen as a last resort in criminal proceedings. The fact that 45 per cent of the children detained on charges of rioting and looting are completely unknown to the UK's criminal justice system is, therefore, very worrying.

"People who were assaulted, mugged or whose property was destroyed by the rioting will have been scared and know that their rights have been badly violated. However, our justice system must not violate the rights of children in response to these terrible events. It is vital that it adheres to the CRC when considering the punishment of children who commit crimes."

The UK ministry of justice figures show that more than 40 per cent of the 269 children who were arrested during the riots, still did not have their hearings completed by mid-September and were remanded in custody. This compares with an average remand rate of 10 per cent in 2010.

'No previous convictions'

Of those on remand, 60 per cent had no previous convictions and 45 per cent had had no contact with the judicial system at all, including official reprimands or warnings.

The UNICEF statement said, "the riots are a concern and responsibility for us all. We urge those in charge of responding to the riots not to blame children's rights, but to respect them."

Unicef said without a full review it would not be able to determine whether the UK was in an official breach of the convention.

Andrew Neilson, the director of campaigns of the UK based charity, The Howard League For Penal Reform, is convinced the UK government was in breach of the convention.

"It is very hard to see how a fourfold increase in the use of custodial remand can be squared with our commitment under the UN convention to use custody for children as a last resort," said Neilson.

A ministry of justice spokesperson told the Guardian, a British newspaper, that "sentencing is a matter for the independent judiciary … When custody is used, it is generally as a last resort for the most serious or persistent young offenders where it is necessary to protect the public."

The spokesperson stated that new legislations was also underway to tackle the problem to restrict the use of remand for young young unlikely to recieve a custodial sentance if convicted.

Source:
Agencies
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