Civil, economic, social and cultural rights of children. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of a Child (UNCRC) sets out 54 articles outlining rights that every child should have. Adopted into UK law in 1991 and taking effect the following year, this document protects young people from discrimination and allows them a great level of personal autonomy. And yet 26 years after its adoption by the UK, the Scottish Parliament is still to adopt it into Scots Law. Is this Scotland’s shame?
Why the Fuss?
The UNCRC is the most ratified treaty focusing on human rights in the world. With 140 signatories and 196 ratification’s, the charter extends far beyond sovereign politics. Sudan People’s Liberation Army recognises the articles, and only a single member of the UN failed to ratify the agreement.
As the convention is not legislated into Scots Law, there is no legal accountability to ensure that every child receives these rights. Over the next year the Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) has made it’s national campaign Young People’s Rights. This clearly shows that young people rights remain a talking point and the mission to raise further awareness and understanding is ongoing. SYPs membership voting to make this their campaign for 2017/18 gives young people a chance to call for their rights to become a legal obligation of everyone in Scotland.
The convention sets out rights under 4 categories: Survival, Protection, Participation and Development. It takes into account rights such as the right to relax and play (31); the right to privacy (16); and the respect for the views of a child (12). These rights aren’t huge commitments, the don’t have any need for the clichéd ‘magic money tree,’ and as far as you and me can see, they shouldn’t be negotiable.
And so we ask, why the fuss? The answer, because children need to know they can and should develop their skills and interests; they need to know they can participate without discrimination; and they need to know they will be protected by the law.
While Scotland has not introduced the UNCRC into Scots Law, they have done other work surrounding the convention. The Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 ensures that the government and ministers have to publish a report every 3 years to inform the Scottish Parliament of their progress and any changes that are made.
Education in Scotland regarding UNCRC has improved rapidly over the past years, with a real focus on raising awareness and understanding of children’s rights, as well as the responsibilities that come with them. As part of the 2014 Act, ministers have to ‘take account’ of young people’s opinions, however does that go far enough?
There is not currently strict legislation in place that would enable a challenge to the government’s actions. If the government fails to uphold the convention then young people can’t challenge them effectively. Put simply, there a distinct aroma of weak and non-committal wording in the 2014 Act. So why have the not fully legislated for it?
Scotland’s progress over recent years is good and should rightly be praised, but it’s not good enough. Young people’s rights aren’t negotiable, so why doesn’t the legislation reflect that?
In our schools we teach young people that these rights are their own, not to be overruled by law or government, and yet that is a blatantly untrue. I’m not saying that the government would (And I highly doubt that), but they could. And the pretence that government accountability transfers to legal precedent is abhorrent.
2018: Never a better time
The Year of Young People(YoYP) 2018 will put young people in the spotlight. The Scottish Government’s themed year programme will showcase the first year dedicated entirely to young people. YoYP encompasses 6 themes including Education, Health and Wellbeing, Equality & Discrimination, Participation, Culture and Enterprise & Regeneration.
What better time to show young people that the government works for them too? The UNCRC encompasses all of the themes laid out above. Education about their rights. Ensuring a healthy body and mind. Participating openly and confidently. Treating everyone equally and eradicating discrimination. Creating a culture of belonging and a caring atmosphere. Ensuring that young peoples talents are grown and nurtured to allow for enterprise. They’re all there.
A legacy in waiting. If the Scottish Government adopts UNCRC into Scots Law, 2018 will be a year to remember for all the right reasons. A show of respect to young people that is long overdue, and a significant win for Scotland.
Is Legal Application Necessary?
A recent enquiry in Sweden into children’s rights found that there was inadequate impact on the law. And the same is relevant to Scotland. It is essential that we can hold Government and public bodies to account with the backing of the law. I cannot fathom an instance in which this would not be the case.
Consideration of children’s rights isn’t an option. Taking account of young people’s opinions isn’t good enough. Raising awareness and understanding with no legal application is deplorable. There is no reason not to adopt this charter into Scots Law.
The Scottish government’s work should be commended as it has no doubt raised awareness and understanding, but now it’s time for them to get to work. It’s time for our government to guarantee our rights in all circumstances and to be held legally accountable when they aren’t. It’s time for young people to take centre stage, and take their rights with them.