Love146 UK – Written evidence to the JCHR

Following a call for evidence regarding proposals in the Nationality and Borders Bill from the Joint Committee on Human Rights Love146 (UK) submitted written evidence regarding the risks posed to children, in particular child trafficking survivors. These risks are widespread, and include the undermining of existing child protection legislation and the placing of child trafficking survivors at increased risk of pro-longed harm and trauma, along with potential re-exploitation.

Please read our full submission below.

Submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights

Nationality and Borders Bill vs Relationship and Duties – enshrined domestically within S.55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, the Children Act 1989, 2004 and current guidance on Age Assessments]

By LOVE146 (UK)

Love146 is an International Child Rights Organisation and as such recognise that we must, and will, take a stand against the overt and concerted racist narrative which conditions structural and institutional racist practice against children wherever we see it. We stand by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a natural place to draw from our universal rights in their application. We see that there is a concerted attack on these core values, which in part manifests itself in the differential treatment of children due to where they may have been born, their ethnicity or the colour of their skin.

Date: October 2021

  1. We are deeply concerned about the proposed legislation as it risks completely disregarding the duties incumbent on the Secretary of State as set out in Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 (1) which requires the Secretary of State to carry out its existing functions in a way that takes into account the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. At the same time, it no longer respects the leading role that local authority child protection services have in law in relation to the assessment of the needs of unaccompanied children and the provision of services to meet these needs. 

Safeguarding 

 

  1. “Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 (2) (the 2009 Act) places a duty on the Secretary of State to make arrangements for ensuring that immigration, asylum, nationality and customs functions are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children in the UK. A similar duty is placed on the Director of Border Revenue in respect of the Director’s functions.” 
  1. And, as are set out in Section 55 guidance Policy Bulletin V12 (3) in providing guidance on Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (which replaces Policy Bulletin 75).
  1. “Our statutory duty to children includes the need to demonstrate:
  • Fair treatment which meets the same standard a British child would receive. 
  • The child‘s interests being made a primary, although not the only consideration. 
  • No discrimination of any kind. 
  • Asylum applications are dealt with in a timely fashion. 
  • Identification of those that might be at risk from harm.”
  1. Section 55 is intended to achieve the same effect as Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 (4) (the 2004 Act) which places a similar duty on other public organisations. Additionally, Chapter 3 of Working Together to Safeguard Children 2018 (5) reinforces the duty where all Safeguarding Children’s Partnerships have a statutory duty to assess whether agencies in their areas are fulfilling their statutory obligation to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, as described in Section 11 of the Children’s Act 2004 (6)  
  1. Whilst there are differences that set this group of children and young people apart from children born or settled in the UK, they are children who have the same fundamental needs and rights as any other child who is present here. With that in mind, we refer to the wealth of robust research that underpins the statutory child safeguarding, welfare and protection systems in the UK, including research into the developmental, emotional, psychological and physical needs and rights; impact of abuse, trauma and exploitation; and into best social work and rights-based practice responses.
  1. It is clear from the proposed legislation the statutory duties set out in Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 (7)   have been completely ignored for those children arriving in the UK from abroad who are subject to immigration control. 
  1. The proposed legislation would appear to be an attempt to dismantle accepted standards which ensures the welfare, safeguarding, protection and rights of children, and ignores the duty imposed on the Home Department, and those subcontracted by the Home Department working with children. In so doing this undermines Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 (8), by instead placing primacy in immigration law above that of child protection law. If one reflects on the basic tenets of child welfare, safeguarding, protection and rights, and the known dangers to children if these are ignored or deliberately misinterpreted by those who do not understand child centred practice, it strikes us that a grave and immediate risk of direct harm to children arises. The fact that the proposed legislation also dictates to Local Authority Children’s Services (Children Social Care) how they are to carry out certain statutory functions, and what they may or may not do, when working with children who are deemed different simply due to them either being under immigration control or to where they are born and/or their ethnicity, deprives these children of the safeguards imbedded in the Children Act 1989 (9)   and its equivalent in Northern Ireland and Scotland. 
  1. The approach is simply astonishing in its arrogance and dangerous, not only for children but to the very foundations of the children’s social care legislation. The precedent that this will set will reinforce inequality where equality is a duty enshrined in domestic and international law.

Age Assessment

  1. A fundamental principle embedded in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and as supported by case law, is the “presumption of minority”. The approach to the assessment of age as set out in the proposed legislation is in stark contrast to this principle. Scientific age assessments have been repeatedly shown to be inaccurate, particularly for those aged between 15 and 18, who are most likely to be required to take them, leading to the risk that this presumption of minority is ignored, placing children at risk of being treated as adults.
  1. Informed consent must be ensured for any age assessments. By making them effectively a compulsory measure, this consent cannot be guaranteed to be issued in the best interests of the child (see appendix 1).
  1. In 2015 the Age Assessment Strategic Oversight Group AASOG was established to review current age assessment arrangements and processes within, across and between agencies and to oversee the development of a new multi-agency process for age assessment. The output of which was the Association of Directors of Children’s Services (ADCS) Age Assessment Guidance (10) written by a group of specialist social workers and practitioners from local authorities and non-governmental refugee and legal sectors under the oversight and support of AASOG.
  1. Additionally, AASOG oversaw the updating alignment and agreement of the following suite of documents.
    • Age Assessment Guidance (11)  
    • Age Assessment Information Sharing Proforma (12) Introduction to the Joint Working Guidance (13) 
    • Age Assessment Information Sharing for Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children: explanation and guidance (14) 
    • Joint Working Guidance (15) 
  2. It is worth mentioning that the England and Wales holistic approach to age assessments and reflected in the ADCS Age Assessment Guidance (16) which is used across England and the  rest of the UK, stands out in Europe as good practice, and is included and referenced by the  Council of Europe and governmental and intergovernmental organisations. It is therefore astounding that the proposed legislation looks to implement every technique rejected as inappropriate and ineffectual in determining age, harmful to children and incompatible with their rights and best interests. 
  1. To give directives on how Children Services must function in responding to the direct needs of children is unprecedented and an extremely dangerous development, not only in terms of the welfare of children arriving from overseas under immigration control but for all children who are deemed to be ‘in need’ (see appendix 2). 
  1. Furthermore, the announcements made on the 24th of March 2021 by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, raise cause for concern, and we believe her proposed changes to current immigration laws put children at greater risk of harm, further undermining the principles enshrined in the Children Act 1989 (17) and in Section 55 of the Immigration, Asylum and Citizenship Act 2009 (18), around the safeguarding and welfare of children facing immigration controls (See appendix 3). 
  1. The current situation regarding the use of hotels as accommodation for separated children has seen children’s interests and welfare ignored, and a discriminatory approach being taken, particularly as these same measures would never be accepted for a British child. It also presents a danger that those who may be at a risk of harm are not being identified and asylum applications are delayed. We have therefore proposed to the ADCS Asylum Task Force that an urgent meeting be convened to review the worsening situation. The convening of the ADCS Asylum Task Force has been agreed by the chair of the ADCS Asylum Task Force.

Conclusion 

  1. When taking the proposed legislation in its entirety, the impact on children and the structures in place which protect and safeguard them is devastating, traumatising and potentially harmful. Compounded with this, it also directly undermines the foundations of our Children Social Care law and safe practice.

Appendices

Appendix one

  1. The European Asylum Support Office (EASO), Age Assessment Practice in Europe report, 2013 (19), found that despite the widespread use of scientific age assessments in EU member states, there was “no method which could identify the exact age of the individual”. 
  2. Additionally, the EASO Practical Guide on age assessment, edition 2018 (20), emphasizes that the “benefit of the doubt must be given as soon as doubts on the claimed age appear, during the age assessment and until conclusive results are provided”. “The applicant should be considered  and treated as a child until he or she is found to be an adult”.
  3. And summarizes their findings;  
  • The child, or the presumed child, must be appointed a guardian/representative who ensures that the child can participate in the assessment, has been informed about the age assessment process in a child-friendly, gender-sensitive and age-appropriate manner in a language that the child can understand and does, in fact, fully understand the assessment process. This information is essential to allow the child to express views, wishes and opinions and make an informed decision to participate in the process. 
  • The age assessment process must be conducted using a holistic and multidisciplinary approach which ensures that all the necessary safeguards and principles explored are in place and the rights of the applicant are protected.
  • Since no single method currently available can determine the exact age of a person, a combination of methods assessing not only the physical development but also the maturity and the psychological development of the applicant can reduce the range of age in question. 
  • No method involving nudity, or the examination, observation or measurement of genitalia or intimate parts should be used for age assessment purposes. This risks “scientific age assessments” taking the place of Merton compliant tests, which not only places children at risk of being mis-aged but could be a risk to the health and well-being of the child, as suggested by the British Medical Association, as well as being potentially illegal.
  1. The proposed Bill [Nationality and Borders Bill] is diametrically opposed to the holistic, child centred and rights-based approach to age assessments, which, assisted by the interest of MPs and peers on select committees, led to the convening of the Age Assessment Strategic Oversight Group (AASOG) chaired by Mr Philip Ishola on behalf of the ADCS. ASOG membership included Local Authority Children Services, Association of Directors of Children, Services Asylum Task Force, Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), Department of Health, Department for Education (now the Department for Education), Police, Children’s Commissioner for England, Home Office and NGO members of the Refugee Children’s Consortium. 

Appendix two

  1. As an example of how immigration controls have taken precedence over children’s legislation; research conducted by the Children’s Commissioner ‘Detention of unaccompanied children arriving in Kent during 2020’ (21), amongst others, into the situation for unaccompanied children seeking asylum arriving at ports highlights breaches of Section.55 of the Immigration, Asylum and Citizenship Act 2009, Section17 of the Children Act 1989, the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and guidance on  the safeguarding of unaccompanied children seeking asylum and working together to safeguard children. The Children’s Commissioner highlighted that children are being held at ports for significant periods and that there are serious concerns about the functioning of the Home Office’s National Transfer Scheme. Due to the confusion between departments some local authority children’s services have been refusing to accept responsibility for children looked after. This is in direct conflict with the recognised practice of the statutory duty of local authorities to look after children who are present in their area. 
  2. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) published key findings (22) on March 8th, 2021,  and in the subsequent full report (23) following an inspection of Penally Camp and Napier Barracks in Kent, where asylum seekers have been accommodated during the pandemic. The inspectors found that young people, who may have been children, were being held there while waiting for age assessments, a practice which is likely to have been in breach of the Home Office’s section 55 duty to promote the safeguarding and welfare of children and age assessment practice guidelines. 

Appendix three

  1. Another example relates to the deeply concerning and ongoing issue of the placement of children, who have come to the UK, potentially including those who have been trafficked, in hotels by the Home Office, and outside of established and legal child protection frameworks. This includes the use of “detention powers” by the Home Office which contravene Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009. Among other things, this section sets out the statutory duties of the Home Office to ensure that they take into account the needs and welfare of children, including:

Fair treatment which meets the same standard a British child would receive. 

The child‘s interests being made a primary, although not the only consideration. 

No discrimination of any kind. 

Asylum applications are dealt with in a timely fashion.

Identification of those that might be at risk from harm. 

Appendix four – footnotes 

[1]Section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009

2] Ibid

[3] Section 55 guidance This document replaces Policy Bulletin 75 in providing guidance on Section 55 of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002

[4] section 11 of the Children Act 2004

[5] Working Together to Safeguard Children A guide to inter-agency working to safeguard and promote the welfare of children July 2018

[6] ibid

[7] ibid

[8] Section 11 of the Children Act: “Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 places duties on a range of organisations and individuals to ensure their functions, and any services that they contract out to others, are discharged having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children.”

[9] Children Act 1989 

[10] Association of Directors of Children’s Services Age Assessment Guidance 

[11] ibid

[12] https://adcs.org.uk/assets/documentation/information_sharing_proforma_april_2015.doc

[13] https://adcs.org.uk/assets/documentation/Introductory_note_to_Age_Assessment_Joint_Working_Guidance_final.pdf

[14]https://adcs.org.uk/assets/documentation/ADCS_HO_Age_Assessment_Information_Sharing_for_Unaccompanied_Asylum_Seeking_Children_revised_April_2015_final.pdf

[15] https://adcs.org.uk/assets/documentation/age_assessment_joint_working_guidance_april_2015.pdf

[16] ibid

[17] ibid

[18] ibid

[19] EASO Practical Guide on age assessment Second edition (p12)

[20] Age assessment procedures give primary consideration to the best … The present report provides an overview of human rights principles, standards and … exploitation and sexual abuse, 13 March 2017; Council of Europe, 65-(p14) _ 214-(p44), Studies and Reports ‘Association of Directors of Children Services, Age Assessment Guidance’ (p.47),

 https://rm.coe.int/age-assessment-council-of-europe-member-states-policies-procedures-and/168074b723

[21] Detention of unaccompanied children arriving in Kent during 2020 

[22] During the week of 15 February 2021, as part of ICIBI’s inspection of contingency asylum accommodation, inspectors from ICIBI and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons (HMIP) visited Penally Camp and Napier Barracks, spending two days at each site. The Independent Chief Inspector made a follow-up visit to Napier Barracks on 4 March.

[23]An inspection of contingency asylum accommodation: HMIP report on Penally Camp and Napier Barracks

(November 2020 – March 2021 July 2021

[?] EVERY CHILD MATTERS CHANGE FOR CHILDREN Statutory guidance to the UK Border Agency on making arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children Issued under section 55 of the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Act 2009 

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