Making good on our promises— the UK Universal Periodic Review and children’s human rights in Scotland

21 September 2017

Today, the UK Government is set to face significant condemnation at the United Nations over its failure to support more than 100 human rights recommendations made through the UK Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

The UK Government responds to the review on behalf of all devolved governments of the United Kingdom, including the Scottish Government.

However, Scotland has the devolved powers to make a difference around several UPR recommendations that relate to the human rights of children and young people.

Today, the Commissioner is calling on the Scottish Government to put words into action around children’s rights, after its intentions for children and young people were laid out in its Programme for Government earlier this month.

The Commissioner said:

“Scotland has the potential to lead the world in relation to the human rights of children, but urgent action is necessary on issues where we are failing. The Scottish Government has recently committed to tackling long standing human rights concerns such as the minimum age of criminal responsibility, the physical punishment of children, and the need to incorporate the human rights treaties into domestic law. This United Nations review is a timely reminder that the world is watching and urging Scotland to make good on its promises to children to protect their rights.
“While it is disappointing to see the UK reject so many of the United Nations’ recommendations, it is heartening that at least some of these will be taken forward in Scotland. The Scottish Government must now prioritise incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law, enforcing its commitment to human rights, and addressing as a matter of urgency the recommendations of the United Nations, including those around child poverty, social security, domestic abuse, and access to justice.”

The UPR’s key recommendations for Scotland

Some of the issues raised by the UPR need to be addressed at the UK level. For example:

  • the review calls for certain international human rights instruments to be ratified, which must be done at a UK level.
  • the review calls for the adoption of Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a communications procedure. This must also be done at a UK level.

However, there are many recommendations in the UPR that can be addressed by the Scottish Government.

These include:

Incorporation of the UNCRC

The Scottish Government:

Human Rights

The Scottish Government should adopt a national action plan on human rights, and include human rights organisations and wider civil society when deciding how best to take forward the recommendations in the UPR. As well as this, all public officials should be trained in human rights— especially those in the police and the military.

Physical Punishment

All corporal punishment should be prohibited – including in the family – and that all current legal defences should be repealed. This is a stance the Commissioner firmly backs, as Scotland’s current law is untenable in human rights terms.

Upholding this recommendation in Scotland would involve:

The Scottish Government has indicated an intention to do this, saying in its Programme for Government that it will support legislative proposals to remove the existing defence for parents and outlaw all forms of physical punishment.

Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility

The minimum age of criminal responsibility be raised in accordance with acceptable international standards. In Scotland, this would mean it would rise from 8 to 12. The Commissioner’s office has long been supportive of such a rise, and has been involved in an advisory group looking at issues around raising the minimum age.

The Scottish Government has indicated the minimum age of criminal responsibility will rise. In its Programme for Government, it states that it will bring forward a Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility Bill to raise the age from 8 to 12.

Social Security

The Scottish Government should provide more targeted social policies to help disadvantaged families and children— including migrants. It also suggests it should consider the possibility of a universal basic income to replace the current system of social security.

Child Poverty

Clear national strategies should be developed to eliminate child poverty, and that an assessment of the impact of welfare reform on children from disadvantaged families should be carried out.

Domestic Abuse

The Scottish Government should increase its efforts to combat violence against women and girls, including:

  • the sexual exploitation of children,
  • forced marriage, and
  • the use of harmful practices such as FGM.

It also recommends that specific measures should be taken to prevent the negative impact of domestic abuse on children.

Access to Justice

The Scottish Government should take steps to ensure appropriate legal aid is available to everyone – including to the most marginalised groups in society – so that there is equal access to justice for all.

Human Trafficking

The national framework to combat the trafficking of women and girls should be strengthened, and the Scottish Government should make sure appropriate support is available to help victims recover.


There should be a review of equalities legislation to ensure fair access to health care provision for intersex persons and those seeking support in relation to gender identity.

Hate Crime

The Scottish Government should introduce measures to tackle hate crime, including measures to tackle the sharp increase in hate-related violent crimes involving young people.

There should also be more resources should be devoted to fighting negative stereotypes of minority groups in the media, including:

  • LGBTI people,
  • Gypsy Travellers,
  • Muslims, and
  • refugees.

Members of the Human Rights Council suggested that parliamentarians, human rights institutions and civil society organisations should work together to ensure these groups are better protected against hate speech and hate-related crime.


A comprehensive strategy should be developed to address inequalities experienced by BME groups. As well as this, political, economic and social discriminatory practices against women should be addressed, particularly in relation to the gender pay gap and social security.

Gypsy Travellers

There are a number of recommendations in the UPR specific to the Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities. The review highlights the need for a clear strategy to address discrimination and stigmatisation.

Gypsy, Traveller and Roma communities need to be consulted when drafting this strategy. As well as this, the strategy needs to be accompanied by a strengthening of existing laws designed to tackle discrimination against these communities.

The Environment

Any measures to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change should have a child rights focus.