The UNCRC turns 30 today— there’s a lot to celebrate, but Scotland’s running out of time to incorporate it

20 November 2019

A stylised image of a clock above the message

Thirty years ago today, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations.

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.

It’s a Convention that changed how children were seen in international law. No longer could they be seen as passive objects of charity: the UNCRC made it clear that they were rights holders as much as anyone else; that they needed extra protections due to the risks of their rights being breached; and that then needed more focus on their participation in decision making as they don’t have the same political power as adults.

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.

So on the Convention’s birthday there’s a lot to celebrate, but we all can do more to ensure all children and young people enjoy their rights. In 2017 the Scottish Government committed to incorporate the UNCRC – to put it into Scots law – before we elect a new Scottish Parliament in May 2021.

But now there’s not much time left for that to happen.

And that means that our message on the UNCRC’s birthday is both one of celebration and one of urgency.

Children don’t want us to be taking this slowly

Being a human rights defender is more than just knowing about your rights and exercising them – it requires action.

Bravely standing up, speaking out and demanding change.

Children don’t have the same political or economic power as adults, so demanding change takes even more bravery.

And when children do speak out, they tell us how frustratingly slow political change can be— especially in a world where technological change happens so quickly.

As adults who work with children, we’re often reminded that our perception of time will shift as we age. One theory is that we perceive time as a proportion of the time we have been alive.

The two years since the Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law are a quarter of an 8-year-old’s life. Imagine if something this significant took a quarter of an adult’s!

And so as the UNCRC turns thirty we should remember what time means to a child

It’s now over two years since the First Minister committed to incorporate and one year since we presented our draft bill on incorporation. This is the most important thing we can do to protect children’s rights in Scotland, but progress has been slow.

We wanted today to be the day that it sped up. When a Bill would be introduced to the Scottish Parliament and the legislative process could begin, so that MSPs would have enough time to scrutinise the law that would incorporate the UNCRC.

It would have been fitting if the thirtieth anniversary of the Convention had marked the beginning of its journey into Scots law. The Scottish Government will introduce it next year during its last Parliamentary year.

What has the Commissioner’s office done?

Along with Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) , we convened a group of world leading experts to draft a bill for incorporation. The bill was published and presented to Government in November 2018. Despite this, nearly a year later the Government has not produced their own bill.

We continuously engage with children, parents, civil society and public bodies to promote and explain why full and direct incorporation is vital to the realisation of children rights in Scotland.

We need full incorporation: for the whole of the UNCRC to be in Scots law,

We need direct incorporation: for the full legal text to be in law so children and parents are able to claim their rights,

And, as we’ve said, this needs to happen soon.

Find out more about the incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law.