Consultation on the UNCRC

Laura Dover, The Everyone’s Children Project Development Officer, responded to the Scottish Government Consultation on Incorporating the UNCRC into Scots Law.

‘UNCRC’ stands for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. This sets out children and young people’s rights and how they should be treated. The rights in the UNCRC are set out in sections called ‘articles’. These articles cover everything from the right to education to helping ensure young people have a voice in all matters that affect them. The UNCRC also includes some special protections for particular groups of children and young people, like those with disabilities or refugees.

Nearly every country in the world has signed up to the UNCRC, meaning that they promise to respect the rights within it. The United Kingdom signed up to the UNCRC 28 years ago. This means that the Scottish and UK Governments have to show that they are working to support children and young people’s rights and that these rights are being put into practice.

The Scottish Government incorporated elements of the UNCRC the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014. The Act contains some positive steps to advance young people’s rights, but it doesn’t make the UNCRC the law in Scotland.

Quite a lot of countries have already incorporated the UNCRC into law. This includes Norway, Finland, Iceland and Spain. We know from these countries that incorporation can bring about a culture change, in which:

  • More people learn about young people’s rights. This includes politicians and people that work for government who make decisions that affect young people, on issues like education, healthcare and transport.
  • Adults have to speak to young people and listen to what they have to say before making decisions that affect them.
  • Young people are seen as people who have their own rights and views, instead of always having adults speak for them.
  • Young people have the right to complain if they think their rights haven’t been considered.

The Scottish Government is now consulting people on how to fully incorporate the UNCRC into Scots Law. The Everyone’s Children project believes that incorporation of the UNCRC is an admirable goal which should be achieved, but that incorporation alone is not sufficient in ensuring that children’s rights are upheld.

Few children are likely to pursue breaches of their rights in court, and it is therefore vital that their rights are respected during their everyday interactions with the state. Third sector children and families organisations have a crucial role to play in protecting the full spectrum of civil, political, social, economic and cultural rights that the UNCRC guarantees to children:

  • through the provision of advocacy services which help children to have their voices heard in court proceedings, hearings and meetings;
  • through the provision of family support which helps children be nurtured within the family home;
  • through play schemes which ensure children from a range of socioeconomic backgrounds to enjoy play and leisure schemes;
  • through anti-child poverty work which improves children’s access to food, shelter and clothing.

There are many more examples of third sector organisations ensuring that children’s rights are respected and, as a result, improving the lives of those children and families. Therefore, a crucial aspect of a children’s rights-respecting ethos is to ensure that third sector organisations continue to be funded and resourced to carry out this important work.

We also believe that the UNCRC should be treated as the minimum standard for children’s rights and that more work is needed to improve the standard of protection afforded to children and young people, particularly those in vulnerable and marginalised groups such asylum-seeking children, looked-after children and children who have had contact with the criminal justice system.