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UK among the worst countries for children’s rights, new report finds

Photo by Janko Ferlič on Unsplash

The UK is one of the worst countries in the world for respecting the rights of children, a new international report has found. The KidsRights Index 2020, published this week, ranked the UK 169th out of 182 countries, behind Yemen, Sierra Leone, Sudan, and Iraq. The best-ranked countries were Iceland, Switzerland, and Finland.

Humanists UK, which has a long history of campaigning for children’s rights and is an active member of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England and ROCK (Rights of the Child UK), has expressed dismay at the findings.

The report, which was produced by charity The KidsRights Foundation in cooperation with Erasmus School of Economics (ESE) and the International Institute of Social Studies in the Netherlands, seeks to establish how well different countries meet the standards for children’s rights set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCR). To do this, the report’s authors synthesised comparative data in five key areas:

  1. Right to Life
  2. Right to Health
  3. Right to Education
  4. Right to Protection
  5. Enabling Environment for Child Rights

It is the UK’s performance the last of these categories –  which assesses ‘the extent to which countries have operationalized the general principles of the CRC (nondiscrimination; best interests of the child; respect for the views of the child/participation) and the extent to which there is a basic ‘infrastructure’ for making and implementing child rights policy’ – which has led to its poor score.

The index does not rank countries on the basis of where children have the best life overall. Instead, it takes account of how well those countries respect children’s rights relative to their financial resources and is derived from the most recent Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for each state.

In the UK, the most recent such report was conducted in 2016. Amongst other things, it called for the repeal of compulsory collective worship in UK schools, a fully integrated education system in Northern Ireland, and compulsory relationships and sex education. Notably, just one of these issues – Relationships and Sex Education – has been addressed by any of the governments of the UK and, even then, England has shied away from a fully child-rights focused approach and retained parental opt-outs and faith-based exemptions to the new subject, which is set to be implemented from September 2020. Meanwhile, Wales plans to remove the parental opt-out from RSE from 2022, and along with Scotland recently removed the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ to outlaw all beating of children, giving them the same legal protections as adults.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Dr Ruth Wareham said:

‘It is truly shocking that a wealthy, democratic country like the UK is performing so badly on children’s rights – especially when the reforms needed to turn things around are so obvious.

‘Humanists UK has long campaigned for the changes the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has recommended, including an end to compulsory worship, and bringing about mandatory relationships and sex education, integrated education in Northern Ireland, and an end to the physical punishment of children.

‘But while we are starting to see reform on some of these issues, particularly with regards to relationships education, change simply isn’t happening fast enough. A key reason for this is that too much ground is conceded to religious interest groups who want to impose their beliefs on children without proper consideration of those children as full human beings with individual rights of their own.’

The report looked at the UK as a whole and did not separately consider the specific picture for children’s rights within each of the nations of the UK. Dr Wareham commented on how the UK could improve its overall ranking by looking to many of the precedents being set in Wales:

‘One place where these issues seem to be less of a problem is in Wales, where the Welsh Government has taken a rights-based approach seriously. This has led to an end to the right to withdraw children from RSE and to a ban on the hitting of children. But until all of the recommendations of the UN Committee, including the abolition of compulsory religious worship, are met in every part of the UK, we will continue to languish at the bottom of the table when we really should be leading the way.’


For further comment or information, please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager at or phone 020 7324 3000.

Read our article on the children’s rights report that slams more religiously selective schools and faith-based exemptions to RSE

Read our 2016 article on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report

Read more about our work on schools and education

Read more about our work on human rights and equality

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