Scotland: Paving the way for the rights of children and young people

Scotland has become the first devolved nation in the world, and the first country in the UK, to directly incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law.

The UNCRC consists of 54 articles which protect and promote children’s rights and requires governments to meet children’s basic needs. These articles include the right to protection from violence, abuse or neglect, the right to an education that enables children to fulfil their potential and the right to express their opinions and to be listened to.

The UNCRC was adopted by the United Nations in November 1989 and 196 countries across the world have since signed up to the convention. However, the Scottish Government have gone further than simply being a signatory to the convention. On 16 March 2021, MSPs at Holyrood voted unanimously for the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill to be directly incorporated into our domestic law.

Incorporation of the UNCRC into domestic law will mean that the Scottish Government and other public authorities – such as the police, schools, hospitals and councils – must protect children’s rights and listen to children when making decisions. It means that public authorities are bound by law to act in a manner that is consistent with children’s rights under the UNCRC, and they can be held accountable if they do not.

Children, young people and their representatives will now be able to take public authorities to court to enforce their rights. The Courts will have the power to decide if legislation is compatible with the UNCRC requirements and the Scottish Government will be able to change laws to ensure that they meet these requirements.

The incorporation of the UNCRC into domestic law is being widely praised across Scotland. The UNCRC provides a strong legal framework for Scotland to tackle a wide range of different social, cultural and economic issues. This will help to improve the lives of all children in Scotland, but it will have a particularly big impact on those children who are most at risk – for example, those who live in poverty, children with disabilities and children from ethnic minority backgrounds.

At the moment, it is not entirely clear what all of the implications of this incorporation will be. However, if we look at other countries who have incorporated this convention into domestic law, such a Norway and Sweden, it can be seen that children are more likely to be perceived as right’s holders and there is greater culture of respect for children’s rights. We know that it means that children’s rights will be at the heart of Scottish decision-making when new laws and policies are created and that politicians will be held to account on important matters which impact children.

This decision by the Scottish Government will give power to children – they will be consulted and their voices will be heard. However, it is not only children who will benefit from this, but also their parents, families and the wider community as a whole.

Article by Gemma Johnston – Trainee Solicitor

Macleod & MacCallum’s Family Law Team

March 30, 2021