Earlier this week, children’s rights were placed firmly at the heart of Scottish politics, with a debate in Parliament and the subsequent launch of a new child rights manifesto.
At Holyrood, MSPs debated the importance of recognising and respecting the rights of children and young people, along with the need to promote Scotland’s international obligations to ensure all children enjoy their childhood with freedom and dignity. Proposed by Children in Scotland, with the support of Roderick Campbell MSP, the motion quickly gained cross-party support.
Later in the week saw the launch of a Child Rights Manifesto, by a coalition headed by the Scottish Parliament’s Cross-Party Group for Children and Young People. The manifesto is a short, values-based document that reflects the voices of over 3,500 children and young people in Scotland. It outlines the ways in which children and young people expect decision-makers to act, in order for them to enjoy their rights as set out in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Designed to be a living document, manifesto signatories pledge their support. Those who want to be a #ChildRightsChamp can help ensure that the rights of children are central to discussions in the run-up to the 2016 elections. Signing up means helping to accelerate the culture change needed to ensure full implementation of the UNCRC across all areas of policy, legislation and, crucially, in practice.
Children in Scotland urges politicians from all parties to support this public declaration of respect for our young people’s rights.
The debate and manifesto represent steps in the right direction. But further progress still needs to be made.
Although in Scotland there has been tangible progress in realising rights through policy and legislation, including the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act and Getting it Right for Every Child, vulnerable young people continue to face multiple barriers to enjoying their rights.
It is worth remembering too that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child has never been fully enshrined in Scots law, which undoubtedly raises questions about our country’s commitment to protecting and promoting children’s rights.
I believe our ambitions to strengthen children’s rights should be looked at in the context of current UK politics and policy, particularly in regard to inequality and poverty. Attempts to reduce inequality have been undermined by the austerity policies, including cuts to welfare benefits, imposed by the 2010-15 and current UK Governments. These have resulted in increased levels of homelessness and a rise in the use of food banks, as low-income families struggle to afford day-to-day life.
We need to examine where we are still falling short, to listen to the voices, and understand the experiences, of our most disadvantaged children, young people and families, and to bring their influence to bear on policy and legislation.
As next year’s Scottish Parliament elections loom large on the horizon, this public discussion on such fundamental values is essential to ensure that our next government makes its decisions with children’s rights in mind.
Our government must be at the forefront of introducing new and more ambitious legislation and policies on children’s rights, ensuring that good intentions translate into concrete action that makes a positive impact on the lives of children and young people.
So, on this United Nations Universal Children’s Day, we should of course celebrate our achievements to date, but also take the chance to reflect on where progress on child rights still needs to be made.
The United Kingdom ratified the UNCRC in 1991. The promise we made by doing this – to protect and promote the rights of children and young people and support them to meet their full potential – are every bit as relevant today. We must uphold its principles, to ensure that our youngest citizens are valued citizens. Jackie Brock is Chief Executive of Children in Scotland.