Holyrood must act now to protect children’s rights

07 May 2019

Commenting in today’s Times , Commissioner Bruce Adamson highlights the urgency of incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law.

In a wide-ranging speech to SNP conference, the First Minister set out the long-awaited timetable for legislation that will mark the end of a thirty year-long campaign by children’s organisations in Scotland.

She gave a commitment to fully protect the rights of children in Scotland by incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law, by the end of this Parliament in 2021.

This is the most important thing Scotland can do to protect children’s human rights.

It will mean that those in power can be held to account to ensure children have what they need to thrive including good quality healthcare, education, nutritious food and a clean environment.

Scotland’s human rights leadership must be applauded, but it shouldn’t distract from the areas where Scotland is clearly failing.

The First Minister committed Scotland to meeting the “UN’s gold standard on children’s rights”.

There is a long way to go before we could ever hope to meet that. In several areas we lag well behind international norms.

The law protecting children from assault for the purpose of punishment is only now, finally, making its way through Parliament.

The Government is choosing to set the age at which we criminalise children at 12 – two years below the international minimum - despite unprecedented interventions from UN and Council of Europe.

My office’s investigation last year showed the harmful impact that the use of restraint and seclusion is having on some children.

Yesterday the UN Committee Against Torture heard evidence from two young human rights defenders from Scotland, on topics including restraint and seclusion, and the age of criminal responsibility.

They urged the international community to not ignore some of Scotland’s real failings on children’s human rights.

Later this month Scotland will be in the spotlight again, when the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, presents what is expected to be a damning report on the corrosive impact of poverty on children.

Brexit – as it currently stands – will see the legal protections of children’s rights lost, when the UK leaves the EU.

The Bill to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law has therefore never been more urgent.

Passing such a Bill is absolutely the right way to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the most widely ratified human rights treaty in history but the ‘gold standard’ aim remains a distant one.