UN Committee concerned about the protection of children’s rights and devolution in Northern Ireland
23 June 2014
The United Nations (UN) Committee on the Rights of the Child has criticised the lack of Northern Ireland representation during its examination process in Geneva.
In its report on the Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography the UN committee stated its regret that the UK delegation did not include representatives from Northern Ireland. The Committee urged Government to ensure that ‘devolution does not lead to discrimination in the enjoyment of rights by children in different regions and that mechanisms, such as the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre are extended to Northern Ireland.’
John Corey, Interim Chair of the Commission said:
“Regrettably this is not the first time Northern Ireland’s absence has been noted at UN Committees. The NI Executive was criticised earlier this year by the Council of Europe when it failed to properly engage in the examination of the Charter for Regional and Minority Languages. There was also a failure to report to the UN Human Rights Council during the Universal Periodic Review in 2012 and to provide information on civil and political rights to the UN Human Rights Committee in 2013.
“The UK Government, UN and the Council of Europe have all openly criticised the Executive. The Commission therefore calls upon Ministers to ensure a full engagement and to respond publicly when recommendations from international bodies are received.”
The UN Committee on the rights of the child has recommended that the Sexual Offences (NI) Order 2008 be amended to ensure that all children under the age of 18 years are protected.
Under the current law, if a defendant claims to have believed the child was over 18, it is up to the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that this is untrue.
The Committee’s concerns are similar to those expressed by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Last year it urged the UK to revise its legislation by shifting the burden of proof from the prosecution to the purchaser of sexual services.
In January 2014, the Commission gave evidence to the NI Committee for Justice and expressed the view that the Human Trafficking and Exploitation Bill currently passing through the Assembly provides a “timely opportunity” to enhance protections for children and fulfil international human rights obligations.
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Notes to editors
1. The Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission is an independent statutory body first proposed in the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement (1998) and established in 1999 by the Northern Ireland Act (1998). It is answerable to Parliament at Westminster.