Commissioner: We need urgent action on UNCRC incorporation, not just words

Today marks two years since the Scottish Parliament voted to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into law. Yet children are still waiting. Every day of delay from the Scottish Government is another broken promise to children.  

This month, members of the Children’s Parliament and the Scottish Youth Parliament wrote to the three candidates standing to become Scotland’s next First Minister, urging them to “make your continued support for the Bill clear and to send a message to all children and young people in Scotland that you will give this Bill the priority that it needs.” 

Kate Forbes, Ash Regan, and Humza Yousaf have all committed to bringing the Bill forward. But none have yet committed to a timeframe or early commencement when the Bill is passed. Human rights leadership demands action, not just words.  

Two years ago, the Scottish Parliament agreed the Bill should become law within six months. So, by September 2021, children’s rights should have been in law. But that didn’t happen: instead, in October 2021, the Supreme Court ruled some sections of the Bill went beyond the Parliament’s powers. The Scottish Government could have taken swift action to bring forward the necessary amendments. Yet we still have no timetable, and no commitment from Scottish Government to use their powers to bring the law into effect as soon as it has Royal Assent, without another six-month delay.  

The most frustrating thing is that everyone knows the importance of UNCRC incorporation. Through campaigning, led by children and young people, we secured the unanimous support of the Scottish Parliament. There remains cross party commitment to full and direct incorporation of UNCRC to the maximum extent possible under devolution. This delay by the Scottish Government isn’t about securing better rights protections. 

The Scottish Government must commit to bring the law into force as soon as it is passed, rather than delay the maximum six months. This would give children the rights protections promised to them with no further delays.  

Children consistently tell us that issues like poverty, education, and mental health are their top priorities, but we lack the legal mechanisms to hold those in power to account. We are seeing cuts to essential services, but no consideration of how those budget decisions impact on children’s rights. Incorporation will make it unlawful for public authorities to act incompatibly with children’s rights.  

When the Scottish Parliament voted to pass the law in March 2021, teenager Jonathan said: “Until now, if a young person had felt their rights were not being respected, there was no legal obligation to respect their rights. But by putting it into law, it shows children that the government, local authorities and public bodies do care about their rights.” 

But childhoods are passing by. When will children’s rights in law finally become reality?  

On Day 1 in office, the new First Minister must bring the Children’s Rights Bill back to Parliament and commit to immediate commencement when it’s passed. Action speaks louder than warm words.  

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