More and more children are being unjustly criminalised by a 'punitive' justice system as public perception hardens against them, a report said Monday.
The joint report from the Children's Commissioners in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland warned that children are being denied basic rights while increasing numbers of youngsters are suffering mental health problems as they resort to alcohol and drugs.
Experts said though crime committed by children fell between 2002 and 2006, the numbers prosecuted had risen by just over a quarter.
Their findings will be submitted to a UN committee which is due to examine the implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in various countries.
"The system in England and Wales is dominated by a punitive approach and does not sufficiently distinguish between adult offenders and children who break the law," the report says.
"Too many children are being criminalised and brought into the youth justice system at an increasingly young age."
Compared with other countries in Europe, "England has a very low age of criminal responsibility and high numbers of children are locked up," it adds.
The study also indicates that there are now one million children under 16 who are obese in the UK, most of them from poor families who cannot afford a healthy diet and do not have access to parks or leisure centres.
It criticised measures such as Anti-Social Behaviour Orders which 'name and shame' young offenders, and slammed as 'discriminatory' the use of devices such as the Mosquito, a gadget which emits a high-pitched noise audible only to people under 25.
Responding to the report, Children's Minister Beverley Hughes said: "We are 100 percent committed to improving children's wellbeing -- over the course of this government, more than 600,000 children have been lifted out of poverty, almost 3,000 children's centres have been built and school funding has been increased by 87 percent.
"However, we are not complacent. The fact that we created a new government department for children, schools and families shows how serious we are about helping families and communities to give their children a happy childhood," she added.
The commissioners will discuss their findings with UN officials in Geneva.
UK Children's Commisioners' report