Holyrood ‘failing on rights of children’

Tam Baillie, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People. Picture: Contributed
Tam Baillie, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People. Picture: Contributed
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Scotland is falling short of its “international obligations” to protect children’s rights, and new landmark laws at Holyrood are weaker than current safeguards, MSPs have been warned.

Two of the country’s leading public watchdogs say that more action is needed to “respect, fulfil and protect” children’s rights and calls on the Scottish Government to “move beyond rhetoric.”

Children’s Commissioner Tam Baillie and the Scottish Human Rights Commission have voiced concerns that the SNP administration has not moved to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into law as part of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Bill which is currently going through Holyrood.

Only this will give children and those acting on their behalf a “range of accessible remedies” if their rights have been infringed, they say.

This would guard against young people being pushed out of the care system too early, often at the age of 16, or allow more robust challenges to cuts or charges for services for disabled youngsters.

The UK’s heavily criticised policy of detaining the children of failed asylum seekers, scrapped in 2010, would have been more difficult to implement for the UK authorities if the convention’s provisions were enshrined in law.

Mr Baillie said: “It is time to move beyond rhetoric and largely declaratory provisions.

“We should listen to the demands of children and young people and those working with and for them and take the steps required to honour our international obligations by incorporating the UNCRC into Scots Law.

“This is the most effective measure to ensure that the rights of children in Scotland are fully respected, protected and fulfilled.”

The UK ratified the convention in 1991 and the Scottish Government, responsible for its implementation north of the Border, has pledged to look at “progressing incorporation”.

The Scottish Human Rights Commission, headed by Professor Alan Miller, says incorporation in Scotland is “long overdue” in a submission to MSPs.

The Commission also warns that the new Bill “arguably represents a lesser obligation than that already placed on Scottish ministers” through the Scotland Act.

It adds: “Incorporation provides comprehensive and consistent legal protection. The Commission recommends that the Scottish Government recommit to the full and direct incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law and looks to develop a timetable for incorporation.”

A Scottish Government spokesman last night said: “The Scottish Government has made clear its commitment to enshrine the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“The Children and Young People Bill builds on our approach by promoting children’s rights throughout Scottish society and by ensuring those rights are properly considered whenever decisions are being made.”