Key points

  • Although less academic pressure may have meant children had more time to rest and play, new barriers to doing both came up during the pandemic.
  • Children and young people’s right to enjoy culture has been significantly impacted by lockdown.
  • Digital access has affected children and young people’s right to relax and play in a mixed way, with both positive and negative impacts.

It’s a child’s human right to relax and play

Everyone under 18 has the human right to relax and play, and to experience culture in the ways that they enjoy. Some evidence suggests less academic pressure means some children and young people have had more time to rest and play during lockdown, but there were still a lot of concerns around this right being realised.

Some children and young people found maintaining physical distancing to be challenging― especially younger children.

Meanwhile, playgrounds, museums and other public spaces have been closed – as have early childhood services and non-hub schools― and some children and young people don’t have easy access to green outdoor spaces.

As a result, there’s less chance for children and young people to meet others their own age, and fewer opportunities for leisure and cultural activities. One survey of children and young people had over a quarter reporting they were feeling lonely.

Paintbrushes in a paint palette, a person using a tablet, a musical note, a swimmer, and people playing catch.

UNCRC Article 31

I have a right to rest, relax and play

An Impact Assessment for the coronavirus pandemic

We supported the Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland to create an Alternative Children’s Rights Impact Assessment, looking at the laws and policies passed in Scotland in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Impact Assessment looked at how these had affected children and young people in nine different areas, including rest, relaxation and play. It found some ways in which rest and play were easier during the pandemic, but also that new barriers to both had been created.


Adults in power often make decisions that affect people― such as laws and policies. When they do this, they don’t always think about the impact these decisions will have on children and young people.

A Children’s Rights Impact Assessment, or CRIA,is a way to include children and young people in a decision. It looks at the ways the decision might affect the rights of children and young people― both positively and negatively.

By doing this, it means people know what the effect of the decision on children and young people is likely to be.

What needs to change as a result of this Impact Assessment?

Our office has made several recommendations around what Scottish Government and others need to change as a result of what this Impact Assessment has found. They’re changes which will help keep human rights promises to children and young people as we recover from the coronavirus pandemic, and which will safeguard their human rights in any future crisis.

What has the pandemic meant for access to culture?

Although cultural and artistic expression can be enjoyed in the home and online, culture ultimately derives from the community. Because of this, cultural rights are most fully articulated and enjoyed in places that have been closed or had access restrictions through the pandemic― like schools, community venues and public spaces. As well as this, many cultural events like festivals, events and ceremonies have been cancelled.

Lockdown may mean less opportunities for exercise

Restrictions on how often children and young people could go outdoors may have also led to them doing less exercise. Other aspects of lockdown may have impacted this, too, like the fact that places like gyms and swimming pools closed.

Families with lower incomes are less likely to have access to space where they can exercise, and so the lockdown will have disproportionately impacted their ability to do so.

Physical distancing restricted how children could play

While physical distancing measures were in effect, children wouldn’t be able to play with each other in ways involving contact, which will have been detrimental developmentally.

They’ll also be likely to have spent much less time with their friends, and that will have been challenging for them. Most children will have had to maintain their friendships online, and this will have been difficult for many of them. Where children have limited digital access, this will have been a barrier to their right to play being met.

Spending more time online has mixed effects

Lockdown has led to children and young people spending more time on the internet. That may have led to positive experiences – like more time interacting with people – but also negative ones― like doing less exercise.

How has the right to play been affected for pre-school children?

Increased Early Learning and Childcare hours have been suspended due to the pandemic. This will have negatively impacted on the play rights of pre-school children by limiting access to space, time and support for play activity.

Some children’s rights to relax and play have been disproportionately affected by the lockdown

Certain groups of children and young people are less likely to experience their rights to rest and play.

Those who live in places like refuges, small houses and Young Offenders’ Institutions may have reduced opportunities to do so.

And young carers may have little or no time to go outdoors due to the number of responsibilities they have.