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United Nations Committee On The Rights Of The Child

Volume 300: debated on Friday 7 November 1997

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To ask the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland if she will list the concluding observations pertaining to Northern Ireland made by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child following examination of the United Kingdom periodic report in January 1995; and if she will list the progress made in addressing each of the committee's concerns.[13068]

[holding answer 6 November 1997]: The concluding observations made in respect of Northern Ireland relate to a range of issues: the impact on children of emergency legislation; juvenile justice; children in training schools; race relations legislation; and integrated and Irish medium education. I shall deal with each in turn.

Emergency legislation

The Committee expressed concern about the lack of information on the difficulties experienced by children living in Northern Ireland and the effect on children of the operation of emergency legislation.
The legislation to enable the security forces and the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland to deal effectively with terrorism seeks to combine operational utility and public acceptability by providing measures which are appropriate and proportionate to the threat of terrorism, while at the same time protecting the rights of individuals. While there has been no official assessment of the particular impact on children of the emergency legislation in Northern Ireland, special safeguards have been introduced into the statutory codes of practice governing the detention, treatment and questioning of people under the terrorism provisions. These ensure that in the rare event of the police having to interview anyone who appears to be under 17, the well-being and rights of the interviewee are given the highest priority. Among the special safeguards is a requirement that they must be accompanied by an appropriate adult.
The emergency legislation permits a constable or member of the security forces to stop and search any person in specific circumstances laid down in legislation. If it is necessary to search a child under 14 this is normally done by a female police officer or a female soldier. For a juvenile older than this, the search is carried out by a police officer or soldier of the same sex. Any allegation of unprofessional behaviour by a member of the security forces is treated very seriously. Procedures exist for dealing with such complaints and are widely publicised, although allegations of harassment against children have been very rare.
The emergency legislation is independently reviewed and renewed annually following debates in Parliament. The Government has recently launched a major review of counter-terrorism legislation in the United Kingdom. The aim is to end the present temporary arrangements and produce permanent legislation which will deal with all kinds of terrorism, including international terrorism.

Juvenile justice

The Committee concerned that the Training School ethos appeared to lay emphasis on imprisonment and punishment. A proposal for a draft Criminal Justice (Children) (Northern Ireland) Order was published in February this year. The draft legislation has been prepared as part of a developing juvenile justice strategy. An important part of that strategy is to reduce the number of young people in custody. Custody will be restricted to those who have committed a serious offence or who pose a serious danger to the public. In all criminal proceedings the court will be required to have regard to the welfare of the child before ordering any disposal. At present the only custodial disposal available to the courts for all but the most serious offences is the training school order, which authorises detention for an indeterminate period of up to two years—the indeterminate nature of the sentence was another of the Committee's concerns. The proposed legislation will abolish the training school order and replace it with a new juvenile justice centre order. This would be for a determinate period between six months and two years, only half of which would be spent in custody, with the lower end of the range being the norm. It is intended that while in custody children will be given education and training to help them adapt to a return to the community and to reduce the risk of re-offending. They will be supported in this by a period of supervision.

Children in care

The Committee was also concerned that children in care could be held in training schools. Following the commencement of the Children (Northern Ireland) Order in November 1996 it is no longer possible for a child in Northern Ireland to be placed in a training school on care grounds.

Race relations

The Committee recommended that race relations legislation be introduced in Northern Ireland. The Race Relations (Northern Ireland) Order 1997 came fully into operation on 4 August 1997. The legislation replicates the GB Act and makes discrimination on racial grounds unlawful in employment, training, education, the provision of goods, facilities and services, and the disposal and management of premises. The Irish Traveller community is defined as a racial group for the purposes of the Order. A Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland has been established to help enforce the legislation and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different racial groups.


The Committee advocated further support for teaching the Irish language in schools and for integrated education.
In order to meet the statutory requirements of the Language Studies area of the study of Northern Ireland Curriculum, pupils must study one of the following: French, German, Italian, Spanish or Irish. It is for schools to make provision in response to demand from pupils.
A growing number of parents in Northern Ireland are choosing to have their children educated through the Irish language. Irish-medium schools may achieve grant-aided status under the same procedures as other school sectors. Since 1995 four primary schools and one secondary school have been given grant-aided status. There are now eight grant-aided Irish-medium schools with a combined enrolment of over 1,100 pupils, 95 per cent. of all pupils in Irish-medium schools are attending grant-aided schools.
The Education Reform (Northern Ireland) Order places a statutory duty on the Department of Education to encourage and facilitate the development of integrated education, which it defines as "the education together at school of Protestant and Roman Catholic pupils". Under this legislation new integrated schools qualify for Government grants immediately provided they meet a number of criteria including minimum viability levels. In addition procedures are in place for transforming existing schools to integrated status; these may be initiated directly by parents.
When the Order became law in 1990 there were only seven grant-aided integrated schools; five primary and two secondary. Today there are 33, of which 11 are secondary schools. Their combined enrolment is just over 7,000 pupils, which represents around two per cent. of total pupil numbers. The rate of growth in the sector will be determined by parental demand; there will be no question of Government imposing integration.
The Department of Education will issue guidelines on transformation to integrated status to all schools later this year. These should provide a further stimulus to the growth of the sector.