On Tuesday evening (16th March) the Scottish Parliament unanimously voted to incorporate the human rights of children and young people into law in Scotland. As I followed the debate and the vote at Holyrood on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Incorporation Bill it was clear that this was an important and historic moment. MSPs of all political parties stood together and committed to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of all Scotland’s children.
Wow! What. A. Moment. A rare but joyous example of hope and optimism to lift us all in challenging times.
It might not be obvious to all right now, but this, for me, was perhaps the single greatest achievement of this Scottish Parliament. The world of Scottish politics can be febrile, hostile even, at times. Yet here was an expression of shared ambition, for a Scotland where we all agree that our children should enjoy – and expect – equality, fairness, and justice for themselves and each other.
So, what does this all mean for children and young people? To begin with, it will mean that children are recognised as equal citizens whose voice and views must be considered in all aspects of public life. It will also mean all decisions that impact children must be taken in their best interest, and that children should have a say in those decisions. These are already established principles in many aspects of the law where children are concerned, and in how children’s services are delivered.
But, and here is the critical bit, there will now be legal accountability for making sure that these principles are always applied.
Incorporating UNCRC will benefit all children, young people, and families and will be crucial for fulfilling the rights of all to education, to access health services, and to play. For many of the children and families that we work with at Aberlour, this new legislation will be particularly significant. Vulnerable, disadvantaged, and marginalised children, young people, and families, whose rights are most often at risk of being ignored or even breached, will now have their rights protected in law and when their rights are not respected they can expect remedy and accountability.
I have spoken openly over the years of my frustration about how, despite having lots of great law and policy in Scotland, we have failed to implement it in the way it is intended. Most often to the detriment of our most vulnerable children and families. With UNCRC placed directly in law, there is a mechanism by which we can hold those institutions to account that don’t uphold the rights of children, young people, and families to live dignified lives, or that don’t support parents to access supports that allow them to recover and heal from trauma. This is important and can be the difference we have longed for if we undertake to walk alongside those families who need help and support but aren’t receiving it and effectively challenge organisations that aren’t acting quickly and decisively enough to change their approach and ensure that rights are respected and enacted.
At Aberlour, we are committed to reducing and mitigating the impact of poverty on the children and families we work with.
We campaign daily for an end to child poverty. UNCRC incorporation should get us closer to that ambition. Articles 26 and 27 of the UNCRC insist that children and their families have a right to receive support through social security and that all children have a right to an adequate standard of living that meets their physical and social needs and supports their development. There we have it. In law. The Scottish Government and others now have a legal obligation to end financial hardship and the impact of poverty on children.
It is right that we take the time to celebrate this achievement. We must also celebrate all those who have campaigned long and hard for many years to see this happen. In particular, the children and young people who stood up and made those in government listen. They demanded their rights be enshrined in law, and now they are. What more we can now do as a result for those children and young people whose voices aren’t as loud and who are seldom heard or listened to.
But now the hard work begins.
We live in a country where we have embraced and legislated for the rights of all children. This will soon be followed by a new Scottish Human Rights Bill which will aim to incorporate further international human rights frameworks into law.
We cannot be complacent. The UNCRC has the potential to be transformative for the lives of children, young people, and families in Scotland. To make this happen, we need to come together to channel the same energy, commitment, and unanimity we have shown legislating to incorporate the UNCRC into making children’s rights real – for every child, every day, everywhere.
SallyAnn Kelly, Aberlour CEO