Bruce Adamson marks Human Rights Day
This Human Rights Day, Commissioner Bruce Adamson shares his deep frustration that despite Scottish Government assurances, children still do not have their rights protected in law.
We talk a good game on human rights in Scotland, we love to talk. But it’s action, not just talk that’s needed.
We have heard a lot of talk from the Scottish Government condemning the impact of UK Government’s decisions. We agree, and we have been at the forefront of challenging the UK Government, most recently on poverty and children’s access to social security. We laid a report before the Scottish Parliament detailing the potential impacts on children of the UK Government’s attacks on the Human Rights Act, calling for action from the Parliament in its role as a human rights guarantor.
But the Scottish Government has responsibilities of its own. One responsibility is ensuring the implementation of human rights in Scotland.
After years of Actions Plans, Leaderships Groups, Advisory Councils, and Taskforces all making clear recommendations for action, the Scottish Government has recently delayed the consultation on a Scottish Bill of Rights.
Without rights in law, without accountability, without action, children are left without the protections they need. We are good at grand declaratory statements on human rights in Scotland, but human rights leadership demands action from Government, not just words.
Even worse than the delay on the Scottish Bill of Rights is the delay on incorporating the UNCRC (United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child). And let’s not forget that it was children and young people, and those working with or on behalf of children, who did all the heavy lifting on UNCRC – many people reading this will likely have been part of that long campaign.
You would likely have been celebrating back in March 2021, when the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was unanimously passed by the Scottish Parliament. We thought we had achieved something monumental. We all delighted at such a strong law, fully and directly incorporating UNCRC into Scots law to the maximum extent possible. Even though the Scottish Government opposed immediate commencement and children were going to have to wait another six months, it was worth celebrating.
That six month delay we fought so hard to avoid now pales into insignificance as we enter month 21, and some of the most challenging times in children’s lives. A global pandemic, war in Europe, and a cost-of-living crisis; through it all, children have waited.
When in October 2021, the Supreme Court ruled some sections of the Bill went beyond the Parliament’s powers, focussed reconsideration was needed. We know the work could have been done in anticipation of the judgment, but failing that, should have been done quickly after.
We met with the Scottish Government straight away and they reaffirmed their commitment to the Bill and promised urgency. We sent out a message of reassurance to the children and young people and adult supporters who had campaigned for the Bill. Yes, this was a disappointment, but Scottish Government and Scottish Parliament remained committed. The Bill could come back for reconsideration and with immediate commencement we could be back on track.
We hoped that would be done by Christmas 2021, or at least introduced back to Parliament by then. After all, Government did commit to urgency and there were two months of Parliamentary time left. But the Scottish Government prevaricated and delayed – and children waited.
We hoped that it would be done by the one-year anniversary of the Bill being passed. Surely March 2022 was the time for Scottish Government to live up to their promises to incorporate UNCRC? Six months is a long time in children’s lives. Incorporation would be a fitting anniversary gift and a good news story.
But again, the Scottish Government prevaricated and delayed; children’s rights weren’t protected in law – and children waited.
Then we hoped that it would be done by the one-year anniversary of the judgment. While a full year after the judgment could hardly be seen to be a commitment to urgency, the anniversary gave the Scottish Government another milestone at which to act. But alas, you know where this is going… prevarication and delay – and children waited.
It was World Children’s Day last month. Was it now the time for Scottish Government to live up to their promises to bring back the Bill and incorporate UNCRC? Surely it wasn’t possible that the Scottish Government would prevaricate and delay on the international day designated to celebrate the UNCRC? but they did. Children’s rights weren’t protected in law – and children waited.
I have lost count of the number of times that children and young people have asked, that organisations working on behalf of children have asked, that my office has asked, that MSPs and Parliamentary Committees have asked the Scottish Government to live up to their promises to bring back the Bill and incorporate UNCRC. But the Scottish Government prevaricated and delayed – children’s rights aren’t protected in law – and children waited.
On Thursday, the Scottish Parliament had a debate for Human Rights Day, the anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaimed childhood as a time of special care and assistance. The Scottish Government motion didn’t even mention the UNCRC. Opposition parties called for a timeframe, they called for urgency. The Scottish Government once again prevaricated and delayed -and children waited.
That same evening, Professor Ann Skelton from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child gave the lecture. She warned the Scottish Government of the risk of regression. She welcomed the huge positivity around the UNCRC she has observed in 2021, and the action from public bodies as they saw accountability on the horizon, but worryingly noted the long delays and urged the Government not to miss the opportunity. Without the domestic legal imperative, public bodies are being drawn in other directions.
Children are still waiting for what’s been promised to them. Every day of delay is a day when children don’t have their rights protected.
We know that incorporating the UNCRC is the most important thing we can do to ensure that children’s rights are respected, protected, and fulfilled in Scotland. The UNCRC requires that we use all available resources to the maximum extent possible to ensure children’s rights. That means putting rights in law.
We know that rights-based budgeting and supporting relationships around families, like community and early years practitioners, youth work, and school-based supports, make an enormous difference in children’s lives. Rights in law helps ensure that actually happens. Incorporation will make it unlawful for public authorities to act incompatibly with the incorporated UNCRC requirements.
On Human Rights Day we begin a year of celebration towards the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. A year of action on “Dignity, Freedom and Justice for All”.
As we count down each day, children are still waiting for what’s been promised to them. Every day of delay is a day when children don’t have their rights protected.
With the last glimmer of hope that I have today as we celebrate the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document filled with hope, I urge the Scottish Government to bring the UNCRC Incorporation Bill back to Parliament and commit to immediate commencement once it’s passed.
Children can’t afford to wait.