Over two years ago, following years of work from children, young people and other campaigners, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the UNCRC Incorporation (Scotland) Bill.
The over two-year delay caused by the Supreme Court challenge and the subsequent wait for action has been hugely disappointing for children and young people. SYP and other children and young people’s rights organisations have spent the last two years calling for the Scottish Government to bring the Bill back to the Scottish Parliament and incorporate UNCRC rights to the maximum extent possible and working with Scottish Government and Public Bodies to help prepare them for incorporation. At SYP this has included The Right Way project giving rights-based meaningful participation support to officials; speeches at the Annual Cabinet Meeting with Children and Young People; and two MSYPs travelling to Geneva as part of #TeamScotlandUN to give evidence to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to help them hold Government to account.
The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice, Shirley-Anne Summerville MSP today updated the Scottish Parliament with the Scottish Government’s plans to bring the Bill back to the Scottish Parliament to the reconsideration stage. The Cabinet Secretary confirmed that after considering the options available for addressing the Supreme Court’s ruling they have decided to bring forward amendments to the Bill that ‘mean public authorities will only be required to comply with the UNCRC requirements when delivering duties under powers in an act of the Scottish Parliament.’ This will exclude a number of areas that impact the day-to-day lives of children and young people in Scotland. Scottish Government Ministers determined that ‘this is the only way to minimise the risk of a further referral to the Supreme Court, while also minimising the complexity for those using the legislation.‘
Members of the Scottish Youth Parliament have been clear over the past two years that the next steps in delivering the Bill need to uphold some of the key hard-fought principles we called for during consultation in the years before the Bill was first brought to Parliament. Here are those calls in the words of some of the MSYPs leading SYP’s UNCRC work:
Daisy Stewart Henderson MSYP, Convener of SYP’s External Affairs, UK and International Relations Committee said: “A culture change is an essential component of UNCRC Incorporation, and we as a nation must make a collective effort to reflect on the way we treat children to ensure that they are given the respect that they deserve at all times if we truly want to uphold children’s rights. However, a culture change is a difficult thing to measure, and even harder to enforce; it has to come hand-in-hand with firm legislation through the UNCRC (Scotland) Bill, and will be a gradual, generational process – that process must start now.”
Emma Prach MSYP, Trustee for the Scottish Youth Parliament said: “UNCRC incorporation is just the start of a Scotland where children’s rights are not only protected but respected. Next, we need to create a culture in Scotland where children and young people are empowered by their rights, a culture where they are so much more than just a formality or a piece of legislation.”
Youth and child-friendly communications
Marcus Flucker MSYP, Trustee for the Scottish Youth Parliament said: “Young people need to be true equal partners in this process. Throughout the coming weeks and months, it is vitally important they are communicated with clearly. The Scottish Government must clearly explain how this bill differs from the original and they must do this in a way that engages young people so the people this Bill most impacts fully understand their rights and how they are protected.”
Beau Johnston MSYP, Trustee for the Scottish Youth Parliament said: “It is essential that children and young people are communicated with in a child and youth friendly way to ensure they understand the protections this bill will give them, especially given the changes between this and the previous bill. When we say “in a child and youth friendly way” we mean that it is designed with children and young people. It also must be communicated in spaces that children and young people visit frequently whether that be schools and youth clubs or social media. Finally, the communications should be accessible to all children and young people, making sure it is clear, easy to understand, and in multiple formats so everyone can access the information”
Incorporating rights to the maximum extent possible
Olivia Brown MSYP, Trustee for the Scottish Youth Parliament said: “Despite the challenges the bill has faced over the last two years, we cannot lose sight of its core purpose – to protect children’s rights to the fullest extent possible. As a next step and even with limitations in place, the Scottish Government must seize every opportunity and do everything within their power to maintain that the UNCRC is upheld in all corners of society.”
Mollie McGoran MSYP, Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament said: “A maximalist possible approach to incorporation assures that decision-makers are embodying the UNCRC in everything they do. Even if there are limitations to incorporation, the Scottish Government must do what they can do to ensure that the rights of children and young people are respected in all parts of society.”
The urgency to bring UNCRC rights into law
Ellie Craig MSYP, Vice-Chair of the Scottish Youth Parliament said: “Although changes to the bill need to be carefully considered, it is crucial that action is taken quickly so that incorporation comes into effect as soon as possible. Children and Young people have been campaigning on this issue for a number of years, to the point that many of those young people are no longer covered under the UNCRC. With pressing issues affecting children and young people rights such as climate change, cost of living and the impacts still felt from the covid-19 pandemic. We must move quickly so that no more children and young people miss out on their rights being enshrined into law.“
Omar Taher MSYP, Convener of SYP’s Equality and Human Rights Committee said:
“The UNCRC was ratified in 1989. That was 34 years ago. Those who were born when the UNCRC came into place will now not be eligible for their basic human rights. Those who have already turned 18 have not had the legal protections they need to know their rights will be protected, respected and fulfilled.
“To this day, children are still suffering because they don’t have their basic human rights, whether that’s a family, shelter, food, water, education and so much more. We need to protect our children and the only way to do that is ensuring that the UNCRC is in our system! The time is now.”