Commissioner writes to MSPs on UNCRC incorporation

20 November 2019

Today Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland, has written to all MSPs, urging them to mark International Children's Day by working to ensure the full and direct incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law:

Letter to MSPs

Dear Members of the Scottish Parliament,

Today marks a significant milestone in children’s human rights as we mark 30 years of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

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. It 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 obliges 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 enabled more children to have their voices heard and participate in society, both in terms of being involved in decision making, and acting as human rights defenders, challenging those in power on important issues like climate justice.

As a Member of the Scottish Parliament you play an important role as a Human Rights Guarantor, with both the ability to ensure that our laws properly incorporate rights, and the power to hold duty bearers to account to ensure that they meet their obligations to ensure children’s human rights. There are good examples in the recent past of the Parliament fulfilling this role; just a few weeks ago MSPs came together to vote through John Finnie’s Bill to provide children with equal protection from assault, and in 2014, the passage of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act placed important duties on public authorities and Scottish Ministers to report on progress against the requirements of the UNCRC.

The Scottish Government has committed to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law by the end of this session of the Scottish Parliament in 2021. It is critical that this commitment is delivered as rights protections for children are now more important than ever. Global changes, like the rise of digital technology, climate change, prolonged conflict and mass migration are completely changing childhood. Adult decision makers are struggling to develop legislative and policy responses to ensure rights are fulfilled in childhoods that are in many ways significantly different from our own experiences. As the experts in their own lives, children’s unique perspectives must be at the heart of our solutions.

Despite our many economic advantages, Scotland fails to meet some basic human rights obligations – one in four children in Scotland is growing up in poverty and the situation is getting worse. The idea that in affluent countries we can’t even provide an adequate standard of living for children is unacceptable. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Philip Alston was clear when meeting children in Glasgow that “poverty is a result of political decisions”. Poverty has a direct impact not just on standards of living, but it affects all aspects of a child’s life, on their education, their social life, and their physical and mental health. We need a sustained, systematic human rights approach at national and local levels to tackle and eradicate poverty.

Children don’t have the same political power as adults. They don’t have the same economic power to influence or lobby and our systems of redress are difficult for them to access. It is incumbent upon all of those in power to make special efforts to ensure that children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

In the last few years we have seen growing recognition of the role that children play as human rights defenders and increasing recognition by courts that the right to protest is particularly important for children whose democratic rights are restricted. A significant part of my work is to actively support young human right defenders in Scotland; children who are standing up and demanding change. This takes powerful and public form in the challenges laid down by the climate strikes, and more quietly in the campaigning work that takes place in schools and communities across Scotland on all issues that affect children’s lives. Earlier this year working with my office’s Young Human Rights Defenders Action Group, I laid a report ‘Protect, Promote, Defend’ before the Scottish Parliament calling for better support and protection for young human rights defenders.

Last year, following the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporation my office worked with Together – Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights to created an Expert Advisory Group on incorporation. The legal experts on the group helped create a draft Children’s Rights (Scotland) Bill to show how the UNCRC could be incorporated into Scots law. A year ago today on 20 November 2018 the Advisory Group and Mikiko Otani, a member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, presented the draft bill to the Deputy First Minister and the Minister for Children and Young People.

As we celebrate the 30th anniversary of the UNCRC, we eagerly await the Scottish Government’s draft bill to incorporate the Convention into our law. The world is watching how we take forward this commitment. If incorporated in full and as written Scotland will inspire other countries to show human rights leadership. If we don’t deliver on this commitment it risks emboldening those seeking to undermine human rights.

The Scottish Parliament has a crucial role as a human rights guarantor to provide vital protection for the rights of all children across Scotland by fully and directly incorporating the UNCRC. This is the single most important thing the that you as MSPs can do this session to ensure children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled.

Best regards,

Bruce Adamson

Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland