By Daisy Stewart Henderson MSYP and Beau Johnston MSYP
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is an international body of 18 members that works tirelessly to ensure children and young people are able to access their rights globally.
In February, #TeamScotlandUN – composed of MSYPs Beau Johnston and Daisy Stewart Henderson and MCPs Omima and Arden – gave an account of areas in which we felt our rights were not being upheld, raising issues such as UNCRC implementation and incorporation, education, the climate crisis, and the importance of community-based mental health services and youth work to the committee in Geneva, who then used this information to form questions to ask government representatives.
The session in May saw the committee questioning government representatives on children’s rights issues. Our role was to ensure the committee members asked questions on the issues we believe most affect young people in Scotland. After listening to the government’s responses, we composed a letter to the committee suggesting a set of draft Concluding Observations. Concluding Observations are a set of recommendations the UN asks for the UK government, devolved governments and crown dependencies to implement in order to better uphold the rights set out in the UNCRC.
In May we were joined in Geneva by Ally and Grace, Young Advisors for the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, who documented the process in order to create a resource for the next children and young people who work with the committee.
One of the issues we highlighted to the committee was the delay in incorporating the UNCRC into law; this is particularly personally important to me as I turned 18 the week before I went back to Geneva. Despite the fact that the UNCRC Incorporation (Scotland) Bill was passed when I was 15, delays have meant that it is now too late for it to benefit me. The first question that Bragi, a member of the UK Task Force, asked the government was about the delay in incorporation, which was a wonderful moment – it showed we had truly been listened to.Daisy Stewart Henderson MSYP
Visiting the UN in Geneva was a hugely rewarding experience for Team Scotland UN. This was summarised by Ally Turnbull, a Young Advisor for the Children and Young People’s Commissioner’s office and also an MSYP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale: “My experiences at the UN as a young person were amazing, from exploring the Palais des Nations to sitting in on the committee hearing at Palais Wilson. To be able to work with the committee and to listen in on the government’s responses has been fantastic.”
Arden shared some advice for future children visiting the UN: “All problems are relevant and important and the committee is there to listen to them. The committee is full of amazing, passionate people who are there to listen and help you. So don’t be scared to talk to them!”
On June 2nd the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published their Concluding Observations. Juliet Harris, Director of Together, the Scottish Alliance on Children’s Rights reflected on the importance of these recommendations: “The recommendations from the UN will focus attention on the urgent step needed to improve children and young people’s experiences of their rights in Scotland and across the UK. At Together, we will push government to turn words into action and take these UN recommendations forward so that they make a tangible change in all children and young people’s lives.”
Although we were very impressed by the committee’s commitment to including children and young people in their work, the UN is still not altogether a child-friendly space. Cathy McCulloch, Co-Director of the Children’s Parliament reflected on how this could be improved: “The information shared by MCPs Omima and Arden and MSYPs Daisy and Beau, had a clear impact on UN Committee members. This was largely due to the huge amount of work the children and young people put into their preparation for the meetings and their level of confidence in knowing what they wanted to talk about and being able to ensure they got their points across. The role of NGOs in supporting children and young people in the preparatory stage is critical; bringing children and young people into a space without rigorous preparation would be failing them.”
Omima spoke about her hopes for the government’s next steps, emphasising the importance of swiftly incorporating the UNCRC into law: “I hope government try and find a solution to the implementation of the UNCRC since it’s been two years since the bill has been passed.”
Being able to be a part of this process has been incredibly surreal. The most touching part was seeing how much the committee members genuinely listened to us and the problems that children and young people across Scotland face. They incorporated so much of what we had said into their questions to the UK and Scottish Governments. I am so inspired by all of them.– Beau Johnston MSYP
We were delighted to see some of our comments echoed in the committee’s Concluding Observations, but this is only half the battle. Now, the UK and Scottish Governments must demonstrate their commitment to children’s rights by acting on these recommendations to create a better country for all children.