Wednesday, 20th November 2019

Today is the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) – a legally binding international agreement that holds governments to account to fulfil children’s social, economic, civil, political and cultural rights. It applies to all children regardless of their ethnicity, sex, religion, language, abilities, social status, thoughts and beliefs or family background, and has been ratified by more states than any other international human rights treaty in history. For 25 years, ECPAT UK has been at the forefront of campaigning to ensure all children can access their rights.

The UNCRC has 54 articles that set out the rights children are entitled to and how governments must ensure all children can access these rights. All articles of the UNCRC are equally important and governments that have ratified the convention are bound by international law to ensure they are implemented.

ECPAT UK takes a rights-based approach to our work with and on behalf of children, and the UNCRC is central to this. In particular, we strongly advocate for the effective implementation of article 12: respect for the views of the child. This article sets out children’s right to ‘express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously’. Importantly, this right applies at all times, including during immigration proceedings and children’s daily lives.

It is on this basis that ECPAT UK developed its programme of ethical youth participation in our work, supporting children and young people to share their views and opinions about our campaigns and the UK’s response to child trafficking, and providing them with a platform to have their voices heard by policymakers, professionals and the public. Our award-winning youth programme provides a space for young victims of trafficking and exploitation to speak their minds in a safe environment.

From listening to young people’s concerns that uncertainty about the future prevents them from recovering and rebuilding their lives, we launched our current campaign calling for stable futures for trafficked children. The campaign is grounded in the UNCRC: our call for the government to find a long term arrangement in the best interests of each child echoes article 3 of the UNCRC, which states that the best interests of the child ‘must be a top priority in all decisions and actions’ that affect them. Equally, our call for all trafficked and unaccompanied children to access an independent guardian follows children’s right to special support to help them recover from abuse and exploitation – set out under article 39.

Temi Adekoya, an ECPAT UK youth leader, said

Without the UNCRC, children would just be ‘seen but not heard’ – now they are heard as well. It’s empowering to know that you’re being acknowledged in society, that your views are respected and that you have a say in the matters that concern you.

Youth participation is the engine behind ECPAT UK’s drive to help create better futures for trafficked children and young people.

ECPAT UK has campaigned for children’s rights for 25 years; standing with child victims of trafficking and exploitation who may not have a parent or guardian to advocate for them. We’ve achieved some big wins for children over the years, including:

Lobbying the UK Government to ratify the Lanzarote Convention to protect children overseas from abuse and exploitation by British nationals, and to change harmful legislation such as ‘dual criminality’ and the ‘three day loophole’ for British child sex offenders.
Successfully campaigning for provisions for children within the UK’s landmark Modern Slavery Act 2015: statutory defence to protect victims of trafficking from prosecution for crimes they were compelled to commit by their traffickers, independent guardians for child victims, a clause to ensure children without proof of age are treated as children, stronger criminal offences for slavery, servitude, forced or compulsory labour to help prosecute child abusers, and the introduction of a national Anti-Slavery Commissioner.

However, despite these successes, the UK still falls short of fulfilling trafficked children’s rights under the UNCRC. Trafficked young people lack consistent access to an independent guardian, they often face chronic uncertainty about their future due to insecure immigration status, many go missing from care due to lack of mandatory training of the professionals charged with their care, and they are often criminalised rather than supported as victims.

Debbie Beadle, Director of Programmes at ECPAT UK, said 

Our vision is of a world where ECPAT UK no longer needs to exist. But until that day, we will continue to be a loud voice standing with children and young people and demanding governments around the world make these rights available to children.

Together, we can make a difference for children by holding governments to account for children’s rights. This important anniversary is an opportunity to identify gaps in access to children’s rights and work towards meaningful, youth-led change.

Stand with us on the 30th anniversary of the UNCRC by calling on the government to provide stable futures for all trafficked children.

Press contact

Sinead Geoghegan, Communications and Media Manager, ECPAT UK: [email protected], 0207 607 2136