Coronavirus restrictions discriminate against children, campaigners warn

Neil Puffett
Monday, March 15, 2021

Children’s rights campaigners have called on the government to amend coronavirus restrictions for younger children, warning that current rules are “discriminatory and potentially unlawful”.

Children should be allowed to meet friends to play, campaigners say. Picture: Adobe Stock
Children should be allowed to meet friends to play, campaigners say. Picture: Adobe Stock

Since the gradual easing of social restrictions began last Monday (8 March), under the “one plus one rule” adults and older children have been able to meet one friend for exercise outdoors.

Children under five are exempt from the rules but children aged five and above are not.

Children’s rights campaigners argue that children who are too young to go out alone are effectively being prevented from meeting their friends from other households.

They say that for children with no siblings, this has meant that many have not met with another child since December. Although children are now able to see their friends at school – since returning to classrooms on 8 March – campaigners say they will not be able to play with them outside of school until 29 March at the earliest, the date set by government for when further easing of restrictions could take place.

In light of the situation, children’s rights experts and play campaigners including the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, part of Just for Kids Law, and Playing Out have written to Prime Minister Boris Johnson calling for under-12s to be exempt from current and future regulations around meeting outdoors with immediate effect, bringing England into line with Scotland.

The letter also calls for guidance to be amended to make it clear that play is a valid form of exercise, and that families with children are encouraged to leave their houses to play lawfully, and for children’s right to play and socialise to be considered in any future lockdowns or restrictions.

“We fully understand and support the need for lockdown measures to control the virus but are extremely concerned about the undue and unjust impact on children’s ability to get outdoors and have equivalent freedom and social contact to that afforded adults,” the letter states.

“We consider the current regulations discriminate against children and may be challengeable under either the Equality Act 2010 or Article 14 of the European Convention of Human Rights (in conjunction with Article 8).

“Further, the current regulations are clearly not consistent with the government’s own policies around the importance of outdoor play and socialisation for children, nor the Right to Play under Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child," it states.

Helen Dodd, professor of child psychology at the University of Reading, one of the signatories of the letter, said: “Over the past year, we have seen unprecedented increases in children’s mental health problems and loneliness, alongside decreased physical activity. The longer that children are restricted from playing with their friends, the more likely it is that their typical development will be affected.”

Louise King, director of the Children’s Rights Alliance for England, said the current situation demonstrates the need to embed children’s rights in government decision making through a statutory child rights impact assessment.

“Given the evidence about the safety of meeting outdoors, we see no reason to justify continuing to prevent children from meeting each other, just as adults can,” she said.

Alice Ferguson, co-director of Playing Out, said: “We are deeply concerned that it is children who have suffered the most over the past year and that their need to get outside and play with other children has not been fully considered in decision-making. We urge the government to act now to allow children to see their friends and to protect their right to play, both in Covid-recovery and any future lockdowns.”

The letter comes as the government updated guidance to allow those living in the same household as nursery or pre-school staff or pupils to access lateral flow tests to check for Covid-19 at home.

However, early years leaders are calling for this to be further extened to cover childminders.

Neil Leitch, chief executive of the Early Years Alliance, said: "Childminders provide the same vital care and early education to young children as nurseries, pre-schools and reception settings. 

"With every household and childcare bubble of every child attending a school, nursery or pre-school now included in the asymptomatic home testing rollout, the government must urgently confirm not just that childminders will be provided with home test kits, but also exactly when and how they will be able to access them."

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