Blog: Young voices spoke up at the UN— now, we must make sure that we’re heard

07 June 2016

Ewan McCall MSYP is a Trustee of the Scottish Youth Parliament. Recently, he attended the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s assessment of how well the UK’s governments uphold the rights of children and young people. In this blog, he talks about his experiences on the day.

During the month when teenagers throughout Scotland were studying and sitting exams, the UK had an examination of its own. Civil servants from the UK, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland hadn't been brushing up on algebra, or frantically scrawling out answers in a stuffy gym hall. Instead, they were answering the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s questions on how the rights of children and young people were being met.

A power debatably greater than the SQA, the UN assesses the UK’s progress in child rights approximately every 5 years. To allow them to do so, representatives from the UK’s Governments answered questions posed by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. These questions took into account information gathered six months ago when young people from across the UK – including myself and fellow Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, Kirsty McCahill – presented information to the Committee about the problems young people currently face.

I had the honour of returning to Geneva for the examination last month. The UK Government’s delegation was well prepared; however, I was disappointed that much of the talk supported the current state of affairs. Striking moments when this was clear included a Civil Servant’s claim there was “no majority” in favour of votes at 16 as well as a claim the Scottish Government was opposed to mosquito devices— despite the lack of any planned action. Similarly, in other parts of the UK an unclear message was given about the restoration of a youth assembly to Wales, while issues surrounding abortion and LGBT rights in Northern Ireland were also met with unsatisfying responses.

After the first day’s session, I went with Katie Burke, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) to meet up with young people from other parts of the UK to prepare for our hour session with the Committee. We decided to focus on poverty, the age of criminal responsibility, votes at 16, mental health, the loss of a dedicated Minister for children, and young people in Scotland and 16-year-olds’ recruitment into the army for our 10-minute opportunity to speak. We also acknowledged that though we were being treated as one country, a holistic approach was difficult due to devolved parliaments and the spread of powers.

The entire experience of contributing to the Committee and the examination has been rewarding, as I have seen the voices of children and young people from all across Scotland and the UK grow louder with the backing of the UNCRC. The result of the examination is a list of recommendations from the Committee for the UK to move forward with. Through this unified set of aims, our calls for improvements to the lives of young people will only grow stronger and clearer. For me personally, seeing ties between SYP and other NGOs grow over this time will be among the longest lasting legacies of the examination.

In Scotland, the examination has invigorated debate over the criminal age of responsibility – which has lain dormant for too long – and has highlighted a UK-wide plea for improvements to mental health services for children and young people. It is our responsibility as young people to hold the decision makers to account and ensure they deliver on these issues. As the recommendations arrive at Holyrood and Westminster in the coming days, we will be following closely to see how these recommendations are put into action.

It will be several years until the next State Examination, and it is my hope that our governments don’t wait that long to listen to children and young people: we are right here, and they don’t have to travel to Geneva to hear about the state of our lives and our rights. As a Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament, I will personally be working to make sure our voices are heard today, tomorrow, and throughout the coming years.

Read Ewan’s previous blog, which he wrote ahead of travelling to Geneva.