Q:
Why do children have a human rights convention of their own?
A:

When we talk to children and young people, you often ask us why you have a human rights convention of your own― the UNCRC. Why isn’t there a convention for adults?

But children and young people aren’t the only group of people who have a convention of your own.

Other groups do, too. For example, women have the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, and people with disabilities have the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

There are two reasons why a group of people might have their own convention, and both of them apply to children and young people:

You’re less likely to have your rights respected

Human rights are for everyone, but not everyone is equally likely to have them respected in their lives.

Adults – including those in power who make decisions – might forget that they apply to children and young people.

That’s especially true because children and young people don’t have the same power adults do. You don’t have as much money as they do, and if you’re under 16 you can’t vote.

So the UNCRC exists to make it clear: human rights are for you.

It helps adults remember that children and young people are humans, just like them.

You have the right to special protection

It’s also true that as a child, you can be more at risk than adults are.

You’re still growing and developing into the person you’re going to be, and what happens to you now can affect you in the future.

For example, if you don’t get enough nourishing food, you might grow up to be less big and strong.

And if bad things happen to you, they might be harder to deal with than if the same things happened to adults.

So the UNCRC is also about giving you these special protections.

Other groups of people have special protections, too― like people with disabilities.

And if you’re in one of these groups, you also have those protections, including the ones in the UNCRC.

Q:
What does the UNCRC have to say about the environment?
A:

The UNCRC is one of the few human rights instruments that directly says there are promises that States have to keep around the environment.

Where is the environment directly mentioned in the UNCRC?

Article 24

Article 24 of the UNCRC says that children and young people have the right to the best health possible.

As part of that, it says that States should think about the dangers and risks of environmental pollution when they take steps to combat disease and malnutrition.

Article 29


Article 29 of the UNCRC is about the aims of education. It says that one of these is to make sure children and young people develop respect for the natural environment.

What are some other rights impacted by the environment?

In 2016 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child held a Day of General Discussion around children’s rights and the environment. You can read the report of the Day here.

This report says that many more articles of the UNCRC are impacted by damage to the environment, even if this isn’t directly stated in the Convention’s text. These include:

  • the right to non-discrimination set out in Article 2,
  • the general principles of the rights to life, survival and development set out in Article 6,
  • the right to an identity set out in Article 8,
  • the right to be heard set out in Article 12,
  • the rights to freedom of expression and information set out in Articles 13 and 17,
  • the rights to protection from all forms of violence and to physical and mental integrity set out in Article 19,
  • the rights to food, water, sanitation and housing set out in Articles 24 and 27,
  • the right to education set out in Article 28,
  • the rights to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts set out in Article 31,
  • the right to freedom from exploitation set out in Article 32,
  • the right to an adequate standard of living set out in Article 37.

A new general comment on the environment

In June 2021, the Committee on the Rights of the Child committed to creating a new General Comment around the environment, which will have a special focus on climate change.

Q:
Will the UK Government’s challenge to the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill delay when it comes into force?
A:

It doesn’t have to.

The UK Government’s challenge will delay the Bill getting Royal Assent― where the Queen approves a Bill and so makes it become a law.

The UNCRC Incorporation Bill says it must come into force within six months of receiving Royal Assent. But that doesn’t mean children and young people in Scotland have to wait the full six months: they’ve already waited long enough.

After Royal Assent, the Scottish Government has the power to make the law commence before six months have passed.

Adult duty bearers across Scotland should work to make sure incorporation happens as soon as possible. Nothing about the UK Government’s challenge changes that.

Q:
The UK Government is challenging the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. Does that mean incorporation isn’t going to happen?
A:

No.

The Scottish Parliament has limited powers, so there are some things it can’t make laws about.

The UK Government believes some parts of the Bill go beyond these powers, and these are the parts it is challenging.

But it is only challenging these parts, and not the Bill as a whole. If the challenge is successful, these parts of the Bill may change― but incorporation of some form will still happen in Scotland.

Together Scotland’s website has more detail about the specifics of the UK Government’s challenge.

Q:
What are the general principles of the UNCRC?
A:

The four general principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are that all children and young people:

Together, these four principles underpin how the Convention should be interpreted and put into practice.

Q:
Why do children in conflict with the law need special protection?
A:

It is important people are protected from crime – including crimes committed by children – and that victims are given some remedy. 

However, this has to be balanced with the fact that some children in conflict with the law may have experienced difficulties in their childhood – such as poverty, family breakdown or drug and alcohol use –which has led to their behaviour.

Some of them may also be victims themselves.  

Where the law says that a child should be punished for their actions in the criminal justice system, this can impact their future. States must recognise children’s vulnerability both as victims and perpetrators of crime. 

Q:
What is the right to a fair trial?
A:

Everyone has the right to a fair trial, whatever their age.

For children, this includes:

The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty

Children have the right to be assumed innocent of a crime until the prosecution – whoever brought a case against them to court – has proven they are guilty of it.

The right to privacy while being tried

While a child is being tried, the media shouldn’t publish any information that might lead to them being identified by members of the public. This would include their name or address.

The right to effectively participate in their trial

A child must be able to follow their trial and understand what’s going on. They must also be able to express their views, and the judge must properly take their views into account.

All of these rights are set out in Article 40 of the UNCRC.

Q:
What is a Compulsory Supervision Order?
A:

A Compulsory Supervision Order is a formal order made by a Children’s Hearing. It’s for children who need additional protection or support.

When an Order like this is made, it means a child’s local authority has to support them and give their family help.

It also means there are certain rules the child has to follow. For example, they may have to live in a certain place, such as in secure care or a children’s house, away from their family.

As a result of these laws, many 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland are not recognised as children when they commit crimes. Instead, they are instead treated as adults in adult courts.

Q:
How can people protect the environment while protecting themselves from coronavirus?
A:
Facemasks beside a question mark with a stylised image of a virus forming the dot.

Children have told us they’re worried that people aren’t getting rid of facemasks properly, and that people are forgetting about the environment because we’re so busy with Covid-19.

They’ve been unhappy to see so many disposable masks on the ground as litter. And they think people should use reusable face masks where they can, or other types of reusable face coverings.

Disposable masks can often only be used once. They’ve been in the news due to the amount of plastic waste they’ve generated.

Taking children seriously

Children often tell us they’re concerned about the environment, and that it’s not something adults think about enough. As Article 12 of the UNCRC says, this is an opinion which we should listen to and take seriously.

So we’ve agreed to highlight that this is something that matters a lot to them.

What does the Scottish Government say about getting rid of face masks?

The Scottish Government has advice on its website explaining:

  • how to take proper care of reusable face masks, and
  • how to get rid of face masks which can’t be used again.

As it says, disposable face coverings and gloves can’t be recycled, so will be more damaging to the environment than reusable alternatives. But if you do use them, you should still make sure to put them in a bin.

Q:
If children can make decisions before the age of 18, why shouldn’t they be treated as adults when they commit a crime?
A:

There is an important difference in the UNCRC between rights to protection and rights to participation.

Rights to participation are about our ability to make decisions, such as voting or making decisions about medical treatment. For example, the law in Scotland says that under 16s can consent to medical treatment if a doctor believes they understand what the treatment or procedure means.

However, rights to protection exist to protect children from harm. Because punishing children, and treating them as adults when they commit crimes, can be harmful, Article 37 and Article 40 of the UNCRC are both protection rights.

That means that every child should enjoy them until they are 18. 

Someone has their hand up beside someone else, who is thinking of a thumbs up and an equals sign.

UNCRC Article 37

I have the right not to be punished in a cruel or hurtful way

A judge holds up their finger as a person beside them thinks of a thumbs up and an equals sign.

UNCRC Article 40

I have the right to get legal help and to be treated fairly if I have been accused of breaking the law

Q:
What is full and direct incorporation of the UNCRC?
A:

Full incorporation means writing the whole of the UNCRC into Scots law— all of it, not just specific parts.

Direct incorporation means that the full legal text of the Convention would be written into Scots law— so no part of it is rewritten.

Q:
What are evolving capacities?
A:

As children grow older, they become more able to understand their lives and make decisions that affect them. This happens gradually, and it doesn’t happen at the same speed for everyone— it depends on things like a child’s experiences, education and maturity.

A child’s ability – or capacity – to make a reasoned decision will depend on the decision being made.

Evolving capacities is a term used to refer to the increasing ability to make reasoned decisions in different parts of a child’s life.

What does the UNCRC say about evolving capacities?

Article 5 of the UNCRC says that the direction and guidance parents give their children should reflect the evolving capacities of each child. When a child is younger, they will need more protection, as they may be more likely to make choices without considering or understanding the consequences. But as a child gets older, this will slowly become less true.

Evolving capacities are also important to Article 12 of the UNCRC.

All children have the right to have their view heard and for it to be taken seriously. But the weight their view is given is dependent on their evolving capacities― the extent to which they can understand the issue and the possible outcomes of a decision.   

The concept of evolving capacities should never be used to dismiss a child’s view. The child’s view needs to be taken seriously whenever it’s heard as it can change what an adult considers to be in a child’s best interests, by giving them a better idea of what’s important to the child and what they consider distressing.

Q:
What is the Council of Europe?
A:

The Council of Europe has an important role in protecting the human rights of hundreds of millions of people, including children and young people. But a lot of those people don’t really know what it is.

It often gets confused with the European Union, but it’s a completely different institution. 47 States across Europe are Member States of the Council of Europe, including States inside and outside of the EU.

The UK, which Scotland is a part of, is a Member State of the Council of Europe. This means it follows the European Convention on Human RightsThis is a law that enshrines certain rights and freedoms in all 47 Member States, including the UK. It applies to everyone in these States, including children and young people.

Q:
What is digital exclusion?
A:

When people create services for you to use they often assume that everyone has access to the internet all the time. If someone doesn’t, they may find it more difficult – or even impossible – to access a service, and when that happens we say they are digitally excluded. For example, a child without home internet access would be digitally excluded if they were asked to research a topic online.

Two common ways in which Scotland’s children and young people are digitally excluded are:

  • because of the cost of internet and devices used to access the internet
  • because of the poor availability of broadband in many rural parts of the country, especially in the Highlands and Islands.
Q:
What is special category data?
A:

Special category data is particularly sensitive personal information. Because it’s more open to misuse than other personal information, there are extra protections around it.

It includes information about someone’s:

  • Race or ethnic origin
  • Political opinions
  • Religious or philosophical beliefs
  • Trade union membership
  • Genetic data
  • Biometric data (when used to identify someone)
  • Health
  • Sex life
  • Sexual orientation
Q:
What is personal information?
A:

Your personal information is any information that can be identified as being about you.

For example, imagine we sent out a form that asked you to tell us your name, which school you went to and your opinion about something.

There probably isn’t anyone else at your school who has the same name as you, so we’d be able to work out that you personally had given us that opinion.

That would make your name and the school you went to personal information, because we could use it to identify you. It also means the opinion you put down on the form is your personal information. 

Some personal information is called special category data, which has extra protections because it’s more sensitive than other personal information.

A:

Special category data is particularly sensitive personal information. Because it’s more open to misuse than other personal information, there are extra protections around it.

It includes information about someone’s:

  • Race or ethnic origin
  • Political opinions
  • Religious or philosophical beliefs
  • Trade union membership
  • Genetic data
  • Biometric data (when used to identify someone)
  • Health
  • Sex life
  • Sexual orientation

Sometimes we will need special category data to help us resolve issues that affect the rights of individual or groups of children and young people in Scotland.

We also ask people to share some of this information with us to help us meet our equalities duties.

Q:
How should governments best respect children’s human rights?
A:

What governments should do to respect human rights are set out in the General Measures of Implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). These say that:

  • Governments need to do everything in their power to respect children’s rights. They should makes sure that they provide the most money they can to make that happen.
  • Governments should make sure that children and young people know what their rights are.
  • Governments should help adults understand how to respect these rights.
  • When governments are reporting back the the United Nations about what they have done to respect children’s human rights, they should make sure that these reports are available to everyone, including children and young people.
Q:
How can Children’s Commissioners best protect children’s human rights?
A:

In their General Comment 2, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child explains how people like Children and Young People’s Commissioners can best protect children’s human rights:

  • help children, young people and adults understand children’s human rights.
  • Make sure children and young people know how to contact them.
  • Listen to all children and young people’s views and make sure others do to.
  • Involve children and young people in their day to day work.
  • Work closely with children and young people’s organisations.
  • Be able to investigate where children’s human rights are not being respected.
  • Report back to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child on how their country’s government is respecting children’s human rights.

The Committee also says that like other national human rights institutions, Commissioners should be independent of government.

Q:
How can we respect the human rights of very young children?
A:

All children have rights, and that includes babies and very young children. 

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) expresses these rights within the framework of children’s lives and experiences.  The rights in the UNCRC are linked together and support each other – so supporting one right, like the right to participate in play, promotes other rights including the right to be heard, to free expression, to development and to education.

Long before young children can understand the concept of children’s rights, they can develop a sense of their own agency.  Babies and very young children can develop this through relationships with parents and carers, and through their surroundings and environment.  Their experience of these early relationships will influence their sense of self, how they view others and how they respond to their environment.

Babies and very young children need to be supported by the adults that care for them to make their own decisions and to be listened to. They need to feel that their ideas, thoughts and decisions are respected. 

They are finding out about their rights through how others treat them.  They are learning about expressing themselves, their interdependence with others, how valued they are.  They are also learning about sharing, making choices and their place in the world.

Early childhood is a critical period for the realisation of rights and good early years experiences increase the chances of children being able to realise their rights through childhood. 

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