RCC statement on media coverage of children from Calais

Coverage this week by some national newspapers about the transfer of young people from Calais to the UK has been inflammatory, inhumane and may actually put children at risk of harm.

We, members of the Refugee Children’s Consortium, are deeply concerned at the lack of regard for the safety of these young people, with some publications revealing the locations of migrant children, showing photographs of their faces and publishing personal details about them and their families. The incendiary language used to describe these individual young people, as well as deliberate questioning of their true ages, without due care to their safety or lawful processes has the very real potential to expose these children to abuse, racism and hate crimes whilst in the UK.

International law makes it clear that anyone under the age of 18 is a child. Unaccompanied children frequently have no documents to prove their age. Some don’t even know their own chronological age. Others have had their identities faked by human traffickers. There is a duty on the UK to give those in such situations the ‘benefit of the doubt’ where there is reason to believe they are a child.

The discrediting of these vulnerable young people as adults has seen a ‘trial by media’ that ignores well-established law and practice that are designed to protect those most in need and undermines the validity of the laws to protect children and refugees.

These are all young people who have been through terrible experiences, and are without their parents and families. The European police agency, Europol, as well as leading children’s charities have warned about the risk of unaccompanied children in Europe falling prey to human traffickers. Some of the children in the Calais camp have already been victims of exploitation and abuse, and remain at serious risk of further harm.

Much of the recent commentary on children arriving from Calais has shown an appalling lack of understanding of the plight of vulnerable young people, and little regard to their safety.

We call upon the editors of national and local newspapers to stop identifying children and young people through the publication of images and personal details. Doing so can risk their security and undermine their right to fair and impartial age assessments, where they are needed.

You can read about the membership of the Refugee Children’s Consortium here.