All children and young people in the UK have certain rights by law. There are several different types of laws that are especially relevant to the rights of children and young people:
- Laws about schools and education
- Equality laws
- The UN convention on the rights of the child.
Schools and the law
There are a lot of laws about what schools must provide. Here are some of the main ones that affect your rights and your child’s rights.
Your child has a right to a school place.
Education is compulsory in the UK and all children and young people between the ages of 5 and 16 have a right to a school place. The local authority where you live must offer your child a school place (but if your local or chosen school is full, they may offer you a place somewhere else).
It is expected that you will send your child to school every day and on time unless they are ill. If your child does not attend school or you take your child on holiday during term time, you may be prosecuted and have to pay a fine.
Your child has a right to be protected from harm.
By law, schools must protect children and young people from harm, for example:
- schools must protect children and young people from harm
- school staff must provide a safe environment where children and young people can learn
- schools must do something if they think a child or young person under the age of 18 is being harmed, abused or neglected.
You have a right to withdraw your child from assembly or religious education.
All schools must teach religious education (RE), which usually includes education about a range of religions and beliefs, and a daily assembly, which is usually expected to be mainly Christian (but may also include other faiths). Parents have a right to ask that their children do not go to assembly or RE lessons, or both. Young people over the age of 16 can decide not to attend assembly or RE themselves.
If you are worried that your child’s rights are not being properly considered you should talk about this to the school.
The Equality Act 2010 says that schools are not allowed to discriminate against children and young people (treat them differently or unfairly) because of their:
- religion or belief
- sexual orientation
- or because they are pregnant or changing their gender.
This means that schools must not treat children or young people less favourably for any of these reasons. They must treat everyone fairly. This includes all parts of school life, for example:
- school places: for example a school cannot refuse to accept a young person because they are disabled
- teaching and learning: for example a school cannot stop a pupil studying a school subject because they are male or female
- out-of-school activities: for example a school cannot refuse to take a child on a trip because they are disabled
- bullying: for example schools must protect young people who are being bullied, including bullying that is about race, gender, sexual orientation or identity, religious faith or disability. (Bullying is when someone hurts you either physically, by hitting or kicking you, or verbally, by calling you names or teasing you.)
- rewards and punishments: these must be fair to everyone.
Schools are also not allowed to treat children and young people differently because of their disability, gender, race, religion or belief, sexual orientation or gender identity.
By law, schools must:
- not treat pupils, parents, teachers or community members differently
- promote equality of opportunity and being fair to everyone
- encourage good relations between different groups of people.
The Equality Act 2010 does not only apply to schools. If you or your child are being discriminated against or upset by other people at work or in the community, that is also illegal. If you or your child are abused or attacked because of your race, religion or belief, disability, sexual orientation or because you are transgender, that is a hate crime and treated very seriously by the police.
The UN convention on the rights of the child
The UN convention on the rights of the child is an international agreement signed by almost all UN countries, including the UK. Under this convention everyone under the age of 18 has a lot of important rights, including:
The right to have their views respected (Article 12)
Every child has the right to say what they think in all matters affecting them, and to have their views taken seriously.
The right to freedom of expression (Article 13)
Every child must be free to say what they think and to seek and receive information of any kind as long as it is within the law.
The right to freedom of thought, belief and religion (Article 14)
Every child has the right to think and believe what they want and also to practise their religion, as long as they are not stopping other people from enjoying their rights.
The rights of refugee children (Article 22)
If a child is a refugee or seeking refuge, governments must ensure that they have the same rights as any other child.
The rights of disabled children (Article 23)
A disabled child has the right to live a full and decent life in conditions that promote dignity, independence and an active role in the community.
The right to education (Article 28)
Every child has the right to an education. Discipline in schools must respect children’s human dignity.
The goals of education (Article 29)
Education must develop every child’s personality, talents and abilities to the full. It must encourage the child’s respect for human rights, as well as respect for their parents’, their own and other cultures, and the environment.
The rights of children of minorities (Article 30)
Every child has the right to learn and use the language, customs and religion of their family, whether or not these are shared by the majority of the people in the country where they live, as long as they are not stopping other people from enjoying their rights.