MSPs to consider children’s rights bill

MSPs are to consider whether new legislation which would incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law and allow children to take public authorities to court for breaches of their rights goes far enough.
The United Nations convention protects children's rights.The United Nations convention protects children's rights.
The United Nations convention protects children's rights.

The Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee has issued a call for views on a bill legalising the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which aims to ensure children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled by councils, health boards and other public bodies.The bill, if brought into law, would see Scotland become the first country in the world to directly incorporate the convention. However, the committee has said that it would consider if the UN’s convention could be expanded further to make children’s rights even stronger in Scotland.

Earlier this year, a report found that children in Scotland are being deprived of their human rights on a daily basis. The report for Together, the Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights, which more than 50 children’s charities and experts contributed to, considered the extent to which children in Scotland are able to exercise their human rights as set out in the United Nations Convention on the UNCRC.

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The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill legally obliges public authorities – including Scottish Ministers – to respect children’s rights, placing them under a duty not to act incompatibly with the UN Convention, while Ministers will also be required to make a Children’s Rights Scheme to set out how it will comply with the duty.

Children and representatives acting on their behalf will be able to challenge public authorities in court for infringing their rights, and the new legislation will allow the courts to strike down legislation that is incompatible with any UNCRC requirements.

The Bill also provides new powers to the Children and Young People’s Commissioner in Scotland (CYPCS) to litigate in the public interest, which would enable the Commissioner to take cases to court on behalf of children and provide advice to courts about the Convention.

New legislation under the The Children (Scotland) Bill to give children more weight in the legal system was passed last month in Holyrood, bringing legislation already more in line with the UNCRC.The UNCRC was adopted by the General Assembly of the 1989 and ratified by the UK Government in 1991. Since then the UK has been obliged under international law to give effect to the rights set out in the UNCRC.

It sets out the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that all children are entitled to and is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world. The rights in the UNCRC, which consists of 54 articles, are guaranteed to every child whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion, language, abilities or any other status.

Committee convener, Ruth Maguire, said: “The UNCRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world and this Bill aims to incorporate the treaty into domestic law so that all children in Scotland – whatever their ethnicity, gender, religion or abilities – have their rights respected.

“We want to hear from children and young people, as well from public authorities and third sector organisations, about whether they think this legislation will make it easier for children to access and enforce their rights.

She added: “Children have different experiences and backgrounds, so we want to explore the existing barriers which currently prevent young people from making sure their rights are respected.

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“We also want to consider whether the Bill goes far enough and if there is anything more that can be done to make children’s rights stronger in Scotland.”

The UK has also signed two out of three optional protocols: one on the involvement of children in armed conflict and a second on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography. The third optional protocol, which allows complaints to be made to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, has not yet been signed by the UK. While the UK is bound by the UNCRC in international law, because the UNCRC has not been incorporated into domestic law, those rights are not part of the law which can be enforced directly in Scottish courts.

The closing date for responses to the committee, which is expected to be designated lead committee for stage one of the Bill, is 16 October.