Children and young people still need their rights in law
Today, I gave evidence to the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee as they reconsider the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. The Bill, which was originally passed in March 2021, was found to be beyond the scope of the Scottish Parliament by the Supreme Court. As a result, the Bill has had to be amended to narrow some parts of it for it to pass into law. Because of this, some might question if incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law is still worth it? The answer to that question for children and young people is clear, yes it is.…
Children and young people tell us the main reason they want their rights in law is that it will help change the way people think about rights. That is, the important culture change that it will lead to.
They want decision-makers to understand and consider children’s rights at the start of every policy, legislative, and budgetary choice, not at the end, or not at all.
We need the law and policy changes, but it is people who make the change. When people prioritise children’s rights, culture change will naturally follow.
Incorporating the UNCRC means that people designing and delivering services will have to know, understand and embrace children’s rights. This culture change, this change of thinking and doing is all still possible.
When we look ahead to a Scotland where children’s rights are enshrined in law, policy, and practice, the Bill still does that.
The Bill still has significant accountability attached. Every single year, the Scottish Government will have to report how it has considered children’s rights as part of the Children’s Rights Scheme. And through this reporting, it will have to identify and address the gaps in fulfilling children’s rights as well as, crucially, demonstrating how it has considered children’s rights when setting budgets.
This will be a strong mechanism to hold Ministers to account, where children’s rights will have to be the first thing, not the last thing considered.
Making the Scottish Government practically account for its actions in protecting, respecting and fulfilling children’s rights – the Bill still does that.
Children still want this Bill
Children and young people have been at the forefront of campaigning for incorporation for more than a decade.
They have said time and time again that putting their rights into law is an important demonstration of how Scotland values children and young people. They have told us:
“Incorporation of the UNCRC is so important because we need to show children and young people in Scotland today that their rights are serious, they are meaningful, and they are set out in law.”
“By putting the UNCRC into law, it shows children that the government and local authorities and other public bodies will take them seriously and do care about their rights.”
“Knowing that our rights are coming into law, knowing we are being listened to, and knowing we are being taken seriously by the people in charge, gives more power to young people.”
Scotland still owes them that clear commitment to take their rights seriously and show that their rights are meaningful and in law.
Thanks to children and young people’s tenacity and determination, we are on the verge of making their rights real in law. The Bill still does that.
Protecting children’s rights to the maximum extent
There are concerns that the amended Bill will not cover all the legislation governing key services for children and young people.
However, it will be possible for the Scottish Parliament to develop a long-term approach to bring future legislation into the scope of the UNCRC Bill.
Where possible, Acts created by the Scottish Parliament should seek to repeal and replace Acts of the UK Parliament, rather than amending UK Acts.
The Scottish Government should provide evidence through Child Rights Impacts Assessments that the best drafting approach (in terms of content and format) has been used. This will include an assessment of any potential negative impact on children’s rights by choosing to amend UK Acts rather than repealing and replacing.
Protecting children’s rights to the maximum extent under devolution – the Bill still does that.
A question of resources
One argument is that there aren’t the resources to make this Bill work in practice. What’s positive about this argument, is that it’s bringing difficult conversations into the light, where they should have been all along.
Resources are an issue, but the UNCRC Bill is not the cause and drawing back on our commitment to children’s rights is not the solution.
Public services should already consider children’s rights and should be children’s rights-compliant now.
Fears that incorporation will lead to the courts being over-run with children’s rights cases are unfounded. We only have to look at the evidence from countries that have already incorporated the UNCRC. Their justice systems are not bogged down in these cases. Children do not want to go to court to get their rights.
In terms of public bodies having to ensure that children’s rights are a priority, the Bill still does that.
Today in Parliament it was clear that the panel shared the same view; that despite the narrowing in scope, the UNCRC (Incorporation) Bill is still significant, it is still wanted by children and young people, and it still increases the ability to promote and safeguard children’s rights in Scotland.