Brexit Poses Real Threat to Children's Rights

Key rights protections spelled out in EU law have not been transposed into UK national law, meaning EU national children in the UK will lose critical rights on Brexit day. That is, assuming they're able to register to stay in the country at all.

The United Kingdom is careening ever closer to leaving the European Union. The merits of the government’s conviction to deliver Brexit are open to debate, but the negative impact this move will have on children’s rights is much clearer.

As a member of the European Union, the United Kingdom had to agree to and enforce EU law, including the Charter of Fundamental Rights. As part of its process of leaving, the UK government created the EU Withdrawal Act. To provide legal continuity, part of the act's function is to enable the transposition of already-existing EU law into UK law.

But some things weren't transposed. Like Article 24 of the EU Charter, which spells out critical rights for children – rights that don't specifically exist in UK national law. These include, among others, the right to the necessary protection and care for their well-being, the right to have a say in matters that concern them, and the right to a relationship and contact with their parents, unless it’s contrary to the child’s interests.

Because the UK government has failed to transpose these rights into national law, there is a very real fear that EU national children living in the UK will face a judicial erosion of their protections post-Brexit.

Registration woes

EU national children, especially those from vulnerable groups, could face another problem. They may be unable to register in the UK after Brexit, because they lack – through no fault of their own – the proper documents to prove their time in the UK.

The government’s EU Settlement Scheme is designed to register some 3.5 million EU nationals in the UK. They may apply for “settled status” if they’ve lived in the UK for at least five years, or “pre-settled status” if they been in the country for less time.

If someone fails to register, or files an unsuccessful application, they will become undocumented. According to the UK children’s rights group Coram Children’s Legal Centre, this is an acute threat for children, especially those from vulnerable groups, like unaccompanied minors or those living in foster care.

It is estimated that more than 100,000 such children will be unable to register in the UK, leaving them undocumented, their fate uncertain. Coram says that in their experience so far, one five children they assist does not have the proper documentation.

"If just 15 percent of the current population of EU national children fail to 'regularise' their status before the cut-off point, 100,000 children would be added to the UK's undocumented child population overnight, nearly doubling it," said Kamena Dorling, head of policy and public affairs at Coram.

Rushing to leave

There are legal deadlines to Brexit, though we now know that nothing is carved in stone. And while Brexit is a wee bit complicated, there's no excuse for the government's failure to guarantee the status and rights of vulnerable children living under its watch.

As adults, we're supposed to know better. We're supposed to look after and care for children. But as the Brexit clock winds down, children's rights are still not getting the attention they deserve. It's nothing short of a failure, one of arguably many during the Brexit process.

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