Statement for the New Zealand Symposium

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland Bruce Adamson, who is originally from New Zealand, said: “The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is special. There are a broad array of international instruments which set out the human rights of children, but the UNCRC is the first legally binding international instrument to incorporate their full range of civil, cultural, economic, political, and social rights, as well as aspects of humanitarian law.

“The UNCRC builds on the Charter of the United Nations (1945) which recognised that the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family are the foundation of freedom, justice, peace and social progress. The UNCRC breathes life into the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) which proclaimed that childhood is entitled to special care and assistance.

“The UNCRC is the most rapidly and widely ratified international human rights treaty in history. It changed the way children are viewed and treated in international legal terms. It proclaims children’s status as human beings with a distinct set of rights, not just as passive objects of care and charity. It has inspired governments to change laws and policies and prioritise resources to protect, respect, and fulfil children’s rights so they have the things they need to thrive – like good quality healthcare, education, nutritious food, a clean environment, and protections from violence and exploitation. It has also enabled more children to have their voices heard and participate in society, both in terms of being involved in decision making, and also acting as human rights defenders, challenging those in power to do more on thing like climate justice.

“Despite this progress, the Convention is still not fully implemented or widely known and understood. Millions of children continue to suffer violations of their rights by being denied adequate health care, nutrition, education and protection from violence. Childhoods continue to be cut short when children are forced to leave school, do hazardous work, get married, fight in wars or are locked up in adult prisons.

“Global changes, like the rise of digital technology, climate change, prolonged conflict and mass migration are completely changing childhood. Today’s children face new threats to their rights, but they also have new opportunities to realise their rights.

The world is watching exciting developments like New Zealand’s Wellbeing budget and Scotland’s commitment to incorporate the UNCRC into domestic Scots law by 2021. These are things which have huge potential to improve children’s lives.  

“New Zealand and Scotland are similar in lots of ways. We both have a high standard of living, access to free speech, right to protest, and educational opportunities so we’re miles ahead of lots of other countries.

“But when you look at our poverty and mental health statistics and there are some real challenges that need addressing.

“Growing up in poverty is the biggest human rights issue facing children in Scotland. I know from colleagues in New Zealand that the same is true here.

“The idea that we’re in these really well-off countries and yet we can’t even make sure that children get enough food to eat and the impact that has on their rights to an education, socialisation, physical and mental health is absolutely unacceptable.

“In every community I visit in Scotland the children talk about poverty even children who aren’t directly experiencing poverty are worried about the impact of it on friends and families they know. But what has been most exciting about this work has been the young human right defenders who have been working with me on the issue – including four 10 year olds from Glasgow who came to the United Nations in Geneva to demand change alongside the Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Philip Alston.

“Scotland has also been slow to address basic human rights protections such as violence in the home. We’re grateful for the research on the changing attitudes to physical punishment conducted by Save the Children NZ that helped form part of our case to ban physical punishment of children in Scotland. This has now helped secure Scottish parliamentary support for a change in law to provide children the same legal protections from assault as adults. This is expected to pass in the next few months and is long overdue – assaulting children for the purpose of punishment can never be justified.”

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