5 concerns for children’s rights in Scotland

08 April 2015

The Commissioner has highlighted five of his concerns for children’s rights in Scotland as part of his written evidence to the UK Joint Committee for Human Rights (JCHR).

The Commissioner was one of many to provide evidence to the JCHR to inform its report into how well the UK is complying with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). In his evidence, the Commissioner draws attention to key achievements and concerns around children’s rights in Scotland, and looks at the state of children’s rights for specific groups highlighted by the Committee.

Key concerns for children’s rights

Legal protection of UNCRC rights

Like many people, the Commissioner believes the UNCRC should be incorporated into Scots Law. This would mean that the protections the Convention grants would be put into Scottish legislation, so that the rights of Scotland’s children and young people would be likely to be upheld more often than is currently the case.

The Scottish Government, however, has not yet taken the opportunity to incorporate the UNCRC. Recently, they restated that they prefer a weaker approach that incorporates some – but not all – aspects of the UNCRC into law.

Meanwhile, some of Scotland’s current legislation and policies breach the Convention. These include:

  • widespread use of non-statutory stop and search on children and young people
  • a low age of criminal responsibility
  • the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ of a child
  • the unequal and discriminatory use of eligibility criteria for service provision.

Two: problems with engagement and participation

The Commissioner is concerned that the Scottish Government and other public bodies aren’t taking a strategic or cohesive approach to engaging children and young people. He’s also concerned that the views of Scotland’s most marginalised children and young people aren’t routinely heard or taken into account. Some of the groups which may be affected include very young people and those who:

  • are very young
  • are Gypsy/Travellers
  • are black or minority ethnic
  • have a disability.

Three: The impact of austerity and child poverty

In Scotland – and elsewhere in the UK – austerity measures and welfare reform continue to have a disproportionate effect on children and young people. For example, Contact a Family’s Counting the Costs campaign recently showed that disabled children and their families can be forced to go without food and heating because of benefit cuts and rising bills. As well as this, many children and young people are affected by cuts to services and by provisions that target their parents.

The Scottish National Action Plan for Human Rights says that:

“budget decisions do not generally take human rights into account and a combination of welfare reform measures are thought to risk increasing poverty.”

The UNCRC requires the Scottish Government to set aside the maximum available resources for children’s rights to be upheld, and the Commissioner is concerned that this doesn’t seem to be happening. He is keen to make sure Scottish budgets fully reflect children’s rights in the future, and thinks impact assessments and rights-based budgeting processes should both play a part in making this happen.

Four: Poor access to mental health services

The Commissioner has several concerns about both access to clinical mental health services and the quality of treatment that children and young people receive. Some of the things he’s concerned about include:

  • long waiting times
  • insufficient numbers of trained staff
  • treatment in inappropriate settings.

The Commissioner is also troubled by a lack of specialist facilities in Scotland. For example, children and young people with learning disabilities have high mental health needs that can go unnoticed and unmet. As there is no dedicated secure inpatient provision in Scotland for these children and young people, sometimes they are treated in unsuitable adult or paediatric wards― or sent to England for treatment.

Five: A lack of equal protection

Just like adults, children and young people have the right to respect for their human dignity and physical integrity. They are entitled to receive the same protection from violence that adults do – both in their homes and elsewhere – and should, if anything, have access to greater protection.

Despite this, some forms of violence against children are still legal in Scotland. While the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 outlaws certain forms of violence against them at all times, it still allows for the justifiable assault of a child.

The Commissioner believes this is unacceptable, and he is not alone: the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and other international human rights bodies have called for all corporal punishment within families to be outlawed. He has called for the Scottish Government to urgently address the issue of justifiable assault in the upcoming Criminal Justice (Scotland) Bill, to make sure that the right of children and young people to live free from violence is upheld.

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