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Building a better Europe with children

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From 29th to 31st October, delegates from across Europe gathered in Opatija, Croatia, to explore how we can build a better Europe with the rights of children and young people at the heart of public decision-making.

We were delighted to represent SYP alongside the fabulous Rosy Burgess (SYP’s Campaigns and Event Officer), Maria Doyle (Together Alliance) and our friends in the Children’s Parliament. We joined delegates from over 30 countries to attend the Eurochild Conference in beautiful Opatija for a host of talks, workshops, study visits, interactions and much more.

This was an amazing opportunity to meet delegates from across Europe to learn, share and develop connections and ideas on the rights of young people in public decision-making across the continent.  It is really important that we continually seek to improve youth engagement in civic society at home by looking abroad, and working and learning together with international partners.

As part of the conference, our group from Scotland delivered two workshops to delegates from over 20 countries on rights-based decision-making by governments.  Not only was this an amazing opportunity to meet new people, it was also an amazing opportunity to develop our confidence and communication skills as the young people representing Scotland fully led both the workshops.

Our workshop explored the structure and style of SYP and the Children’s Parliament and how we fit into wider civic society decision-making.  In particular, we highlighted our world-leading and historic joint cabinet meeting held every year since 2017 between the Scottish Government Cabinet and children and young people.  It was a very rewarding experience to share the significance of this event with delegates, and in doing so we realised how special it is.

What really struck us following the workshops was just how far ahead Scotland is as a leader in human rights provision for children and young people. As human rights defenders, it’s our place to continually put pressure on decision-makers and ensure that children and young people in Scotland are guaranteed a safe, secure and enjoyable upbringing. But if we stop for a moment and compare ourselves to our counterparts in Europe, we see that in actual fact, we’re quite far ahead. The comment that really put this into perspective was “to improve rights protection in our country, we need to be more like Scotland!”

To improve rights protection in our country, we need to be more like Scotland!

As the democratically elected voice of Scotland’s young people, we should be proud of that position. We’ve always been part of the call for better rights protection for young people since SYP began in 1999, and the result is that our wee country is well ahead of the rest of the field in many respects. It shows not only how important the rights agenda is, especially today, but also how important it is to have institutions like SYP keeping up the fight for young people in Scotland.

However, before we can call ourselves perfect, we still have a long way to go. Scotland is still one of just a few countries in the world without UNCRC incorporation, meaning that UNCRC rights are guiding and not binding for policy-makers, and unable to be used as a legal defence. That’s why we keep fighting for it, and why we won’t stop until it happens.

As a fundamentally human rights-based organisation with our values and mission grounded in Article 12 of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, we were particularly interested to find out the ways in which nations across Europe fulfil the UNCRC and meaningful national youth participation.  In Scotland, we are due to incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law following a commitment from the Scottish Government.  This has been the result of a great deal of hard work from SYP in our Right Here, Right Now campaign and by our many partners in Scotland.  We are often frustrated by the slow pace of change, but attendance at this conference demonstrated to us that Scotland’s example is an inspiration to many internationally.  From the work of our MSYPs locally, the uniqueness of our youth-led structure, our dynamic 20-year journey, to the recent strengthening of our relationship with the Scottish Parliament — this is widely admired Europe-wide and something we should take pride in.

Overall, the Eurochild conference taught us a lot – how far ahead we are in children and young people’s rights protection, how unique our youth-led democratic structure is, and what we can be doing better going forward. We’ll be sure to use the valuable insights we gained in all our advocacy work as we pursue our objective of making Scotland the best place in the world to grow up.

By Jack Norquoy MSYP, Orkney Islands, and Jack Dudgeon MSYP, Eastwood.

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