Dame Rachel de SouzaChildren’s Commissioner for England
In this article, the Children’s Commissioner for England, Dame Rachel De Souza, explains how the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill threatens the rights of children in the UK.
As Children’s Commissioner for England, I have a legal duty to promote and protect the rights of all children in England – including, and especially, those who are most vulnerable and without support or families of their own.
And it is because of this duty that I have deep concerns about the impact of the Government’s Illegal Migration Bill on the lives of children arriving in this country. Despite some of the changes made to the Bill to date and the work the Government has committed to, it still has the potential to significantly undermine efforts to protect children who arrive in this country.
Over the past 18 months, my team and I have visited the hotels run by the Home Office, where asylum-seeking children are being housed, to provide them with independent advice and assistance.
The vast majority of the children in these hotels have fled war or persecution, are often alone, and are frequently victims of human trafficking and exploitation. And, whilst all children are vulnerable, these children’s vulnerability is compounded by their lack of spoken or written English.
I recently met a teenager named Cong, a 17-year-old boy originally from Vietnam who arrived in the UK as an unaccompanied asylum seeker, having been trafficked. With the support of his foster carer and the mainstream school he attended in Lewisham, he received support with his English. Within a few years, he went on to achieve excellent GCSEs.
Every child deserves to receive a great education, just like Cong. His experience is starkly different to the report I recently published, which shows that 2.7 per cent of children in care are missing from education. What’s more, 21 per cent of school-aged, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children are missing from education.
We need to make it easier for local authorities to step up to their corporate parent responsibilities, not harder. I am worried that under this Bill, local authorities will struggle to provide their statutory duty of care to these children.
We are already seeing many of the children living in hotels run by the Home Office receiving no educational provision. Some have told my team that, whilst they receive language support, they are being denied a formal education or any of the rights that should be available to children by law.
As this Bill passes through Parliament, I will be continuing to make the case for the protection of vulnerable and traumatised children arriving in this country. A mark of a civilised, compassionate society is seen in how it treats the most vulnerable individuals. A child is a child, no matter their country of origin.