The Scottish Government wants to make Scotland the best place for children to grow up, a key part of achieving this vision being the the forthcoming Children and Young People Bill.
The issue of children’s rights is crucial here. That and the incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law. Today, the Scottish Parliament’s education committee will finalise its Stage 1 report on this hugely important bill. Ahead of this, it has received supplementary evidence from Professor of Family Law at the University of Stirling, Elaine Sutherland, outlining reasons to incorporate the UNCRC and posing the question whether we want Scotland to be a “leader or a follower in terms of respecting children’s rights”. While acknowledging “much fine work has already been done in Scotland in implementing the obligations under the UN Convention”, Professor Sutherland also cautions that there remains “much room for improvement”.
Her position is shared by Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights), and many children’s organisations in Scotland, including CHILDREN 1ST. We believe that if we want to “make rights real”, the UNCRC must be incorporated: the provisions in the Children and Young People Bill on this are good, but we would like to see them strengthened.
The bill presents the perfect opportunity to begin developing an overarching children’s rights framework to influence all areas of policy and practice, giving more leverage to politicians, public officials and non-governmental organisations striving to advance children’s rights. Moreover, it would enhance a culture of respect for children and send a clear message about how we value them. It would also fulfil the strategic objectives of the Council of Europe’s programme: Building a Europe for and with children – which the bill (in its current form) simply does not do.
Embedding a rights-based approach to future policy and practice is vital if we want to improve outcomes for children, to ensure Scotland really does become the best place for children to grow up.
Let’s seize this opportunity to lead the way in making children’s rights real.
• Kate Higgins is director of Together and policy and communications manager at CHILDREN 1ST