The United Nations convention on the rights of the child is the most ratified human rights convention in the world. But intention and reality do not always coincide. The UN has criticised the United Kingdom for its apparent lack of commitment to promoting children's rights, in particular for the absence of any means of monitoring developments, and says it is concerned by its levels of child poverty. And last week's European Parliament report on human rights singled out the UK for criticism on its child labour record.
Now Glasgow University is to take a leading role in promoting children's interests by housing the first European documentation and information centre on childhood policies and children's rights. The centre is being set up by the Council of Europe, Unicef and the university, and will gather information on policies and research on children's issues from around Europe. The information will be available internationally through the worldwide web, not only helping our own politicians, practitioners, academics and voluntary organisations, but also giving eastern European and third world countries low-cost access to expertise they can rarely reach.
"The bottom line for me is that it has to contribute to improving the quality of children's lives," says Stewart Asquith, St Kentigern professor for the study of the child, who will lead the new centre.
"I think we grossly underestimate the negative experiences of many of our children. We are concerned about the increasing number of child protection cases, but my overall concern would be those who experience disadvantage and poverty."
Statistics show one in four children in the UK suffers from poverty, rising to one in three in Scotland. There are hidden pockets of poverty throughout Europe, Professor Asquith says, and increasing problems of marginalised groups, such as gypsies, particularly in eastern Europe.
"It is time to stop reinventing the wheel and avoid time-wasting duplication of research," he says. "We spend so much time developing policies and practices that may have been tried and tested elsewhere. This new centre will provide access to that information."
Professor Asquith acknowledges good practice in one country may not readily transfer to another but argues it is foolish to ignore the chance of checking the effects of a policy before advocating it.
The centre, which should be operational before the end of the year, is likely to boost morale within children's organisations. Anne Stafford, head of policy with Children 1st, which is helping to support four new staff during the project's first three years, said: "This is invaluable for us. We have no resources to find our way into European networks, and we have minimal information about childcare policies in Europe."