Incorporation of the UNCRC

Following decades of campaigning by civil society and children’s commissioners, the First Minister has committed to incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law before the end of the current Parliamentary session in 2021.

The UNCRC is an international human rights treaty which sets out rights every child is entitled to. It was adopted 30 years ago in 1989 and has been ratified by every country in the world except the USA.

The UK ratified the UNCRC in 1991, but it has still not been incorporated into domestic law, meaning that many of the protections contained within it are not accessible to children and young people in the UK.

Full and direct incorporation "in every case possible"

However, on November 20 2019 - the 30th anniversary of the UNCRC - the Scottish Government’s committed to "in every case possible" fully and directly incorporate the articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law.

Full incorporation means that the whole of the UNCRC would be written into Scots law.

Direct incorporation means that the full legal text of the Convention would be written into Scots law.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney MSP made the commitment on Wednesday 20 November— International Children’s Day and the 30th anniversary of the adoption of the UNCRC. Reporting to the Parliament, he said:

…The bill that I will introduce next year [to incorporate the UNCRC] will take a maximalist approach. In every case possible, we will seek to incorporate the convention’s articles in full and directly, using the language of the convention.

In response the Commissioner said:

I warmly welcome the Scottish Government’s commitment to full and direct incorporation of the UNCRC before the end of this Parliamentary session.
I am encouraged that the Government has listened to the concerns of both my office and civil society around limiting protections to a suite of rights and has committed to putting the words of the Convention into Scots law. Words matter and the Articles contained within the Convention depend on each other for their full effect. Full and direct incorporation with justiciability for rights breaches is essential to properly deliver on children’s rights.
It is important that Scotland’s commitment to human rights leadership translates urgently into action. I look forward to continuing this work with both Government and civil society in the months ahead as legislation on incorporation comes before the Scottish Parliament.

Our resources on UNCRC incorporation

Find out more about the incorporation of the UNCRC in Scotland.

Read our joint briefing on incorporation.

Why Incorporation is urgent

Legal protections for children’s rights are more important than ever

Specific legal protections of children’s rights included in the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights will be lost when the UK leaves the European Union. The uncertainties caused the loss of the Charter and wider implications of Brexit means there is a need for urgency to ensure that a Bill is passed in this Parliamentary session to secure rights protections for children in Scotland.

Children and young people demand it

Momentum has continued and has recently been put into a sharper focus through the Scottish Youth Parliament’s campaign Right Here, Right Now, initiated after more than 76% of the 700,000 young people who responded to the 2016-21 manifesto agreed that the UNCRC ‘should be fully incorporated into Scots law’. Children and young people have continued to advocate at the highest levels of government for their rights to be recognised through incorporation including at both the first and second annual Cabinet Meeting with Children and Young People.

Incorporation Advisory Group

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland is working with Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) to convene a short-term Advisory Group to explore what a Bill to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law would look like.

The Advisory Group is independent from the Scottish Government and comprises of a range of world-leading legal experts on children’s rights and incorporation.

These experts have been drawing from their wide experience of incorporation across the world to set out a model of incorporation for Scotland that would meet the standards put forward by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Read the Terms of Reference of the group.

Read the minutes of the group's first meeting, on 26 October 2018.

A Children’s Rights (Scotland) Bill

The Advisory Group has created a Children’s Rights (Scotland) Bill to show how the UNCRC could be incorporated into Scots law.

On Universal Children’s Day, 20 November 2018, the Advisory Group presented the Children's Rights (Scotland) Bill 2019 to the Deputy First Minister and Minister for Children and Young People.

The Children’s Rights (Scotland) Bill has been specifically drafted to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law. It has been written in a way that:

  • ensures proactive culture of children’s rights across local and national government; and
  • provides redress to children if their rights are breached.

Read the Children’s Rights (Scotland) Bill.

National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership

We welcome the news that the Scottish Government will create a National Taskforce for Human Rights Leadership.

The Taskforce exists to develop new legislation to enhance the protection of human rights for everyone in Scottish society, which will complement the important step of incorporation of UNCRC by early 2021. Its longer-term aim is of incorporation and effective implementation of the wider human rights framework.

The Taskforce’s work will affect all members of society, regardless of their age. Because of this, it is important that children and young people are full partners in its longer-term work.