Incorporating the UNCRC into Scottish law

Bruce Adamson
Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Children deserve special protection - it is a common value shared across the world and agreed within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), the most ratified international treaty in history.

The UNCRC is founded on the concept that all children should grow up in a family environment of happiness, love and understanding. It contains a broad array of rights designed to ensure children are treated with dignity and fairness; that they are protected; that they develop to their full potential and can participate in their communities. This is what respective UK governments have promised to children for decades.

But children’s rights must be enforceable to be effective and it has been too easy for governments to speak the language of children’s rights while remaining reluctant to pass laws which allow us to hold them to account.

This week, something changed.

Scotland became the first UK nation to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into law.

It has taken more than three decades of campaigning by children and young people, charities, UK and international experts, and organisations working with and on behalf of children to reach this momentous milestone.

For campaigners and advocates it means that all children and particularly those whose rights are most at risk – those who are disabled, living in poverty or otherwise disadvantaged - can expect their country’s laws, policies and practice to be shaped specifically to improve their lives. The UNCRC recognises the role of parents and carers and requires the state to support them.

Rights must be enforceable to be effective and with Incorporation comes accountability.

For instance, on child food poverty (the subject of footballer Marcus Rashford’s current campaign), children and young people would be able to seek redress if their right to food is not met.

And one of my office’s young advisers, Coll said to me yesterday, “We’re going from onlookers to decision-making, to being part of it.”

A commitment to incorporate the UNCRC, which the Scottish Government made some time ago, always carried with it the risk of a token response.

However, the Bill that has now been published in Scottish Parliament is strong: it lives up to the Scottish Government’s promise to take a ‘maximalist’ approach to respecting, protecting and fulfilling children’s rights.

Incorporation of the UNCRC will –in the words of the First Minister – “deliver a proactive culture of everyday accountability for children’s rights across public services”, giving children a greater say in decision making and providing them with redress, if their rights are breached.

It comes at a particularly opportune time: the wider implications of Brexit and the uncertainty stemming from the loss of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, demanded urgency to secure rights protections for children in Scotland.

While this law is – arguably - the most important law that the Scottish Parliament has considered in its 20 year history, in many ways, it is very simple.

These rights already exist, they were agreed 30 years ago and are a common standard across the world.

What is new and exciting is that after decades of campaigning, those in power (at least in Scotland) seem to be fully prepared to be held accountable for their actions.

Bruce Adamson is Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland

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