Children’s organisations in Scotland, and across the UK, are seriously concerned that Brexit may adversely affect the rights and wellbeing of children and young people.
Child protection has been strengthened by binding European legislation, including laws against trafficking of children, child abduction, forced migration, sexual exploitation and the capacity to pursue criminal proceedings against those who offend against children across national boundaries. As well as these legal instruments the UK’s involvement in, and cooperation with, European justice and investigation institutions may be threatened by Brexit and the gathering and sharing of intelligence in respect of concerns such as online child abuse and missing children may be at risk.
Many thousands of children live in EU states of which they are not nationals, so Brexit could also mean that there will be issues around their right to remain in their current country of residence. Even if they are not required to leave, they may experience greater insecurity in terms of permanence of arrangements, more bureaucracy and higher cost associated with procedures for those who wish to remain and restrictions on right of access to public services. They are likely to be treated as third country nationals (therefore less favourably) in terms of both inward and outward migration.
EU instruments also offer protection to refugee children, particularly those not accompanied by an adult, and require member states to act in the best interests of the child. Through the Home Office dispersal programme, a significant number of unaccompanied child refugees have been settled in Scotland’s towns and cities. Domestic law would be required if they are to be offered the same level of protection following Brexit.
At present free movement of population means that there are no permissions, visas or other administrative procedures required for young people to work, study or holiday in EU member states. There are no guarantees that this position would continue; indeed a ‘hard’ Brexit would almost certainly ensure that it would not.
There are several important aspects of family life that could change when European procedural rules no longer apply. An important example of this is the EU regulation that requires official decisions affecting children, such as custody, access and maintenance payment arrangements when parents divorce, to be recognised and enforced in all member states.
Much of UK employment law derives from EU legislation. While this may not affect many children directly, its effect on family life certainly does. Entitlement to parental leave, and protection of permissible working hours, enable and support parents to enjoy time with their children in early childhood and beyond.
The 2009 Lisbon Treaty embedded children’s rights in the EU constitution. There are many examples of how this has benefited children, such as the 2002 ‘Barcelona targets’ on preschool provision and the 2013 ‘Investing In Children’ recommendation, which advised member states that support for children and their families should be protected, even in the face of the austerity policies. EU programmes such as Erasmus and Erasmus Plus have provided financial support for young people to work or study in other EU countries.
Children in Scotlandbelieves that many questions remain unanswered and we will be urging those who sit round the negotiating table to make the needs and voices of those who will populate post-Brexit Scotland a priority. It is working with its members, Scottish civil society organisations and partner networks across the UK and Europe to ensure that children’s rights are protected and their voices heard.