Children's rights

We want to recognise, respect and promote children’s rights. These include rights to be treated fairly, to be heard and to be as healthy as possible.

Our vision is a Scotland where children’s human rights are embedded in all aspects of society. A Scotland where policy, law and decision making takes account of children’s rights and where all children have a voice and are empowered to be human rights defenders.

Parents, local and national governments and organisations which work with children and families can help children experience their rights. 

We are taking steps to ensure that children enjoy their rights, as set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

These include:

  • implementing the UNCRC and incorporating it into Scots law
  • an action plan to help children and young people experience their rights
  • using the Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) to ensure that our policies and legislation protect and promote the rights and wellbeing of children and young people
  • reporting on our progress to parliament

The UNCRC

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is the global “gold standard” for children’s rights and sets out the fundamental rights of all children. The UNCRC is the most widely ratified human rights treaty in the world and sets out the specific rights that all children have to help fulfil their potential, including rights relating to health and education, leisure and play, fair and equal treatment, protection from exploitation and the right to be heard. The UK ratified the UNCRC in 1991.

We already use the UNCRC as a framework to ensure that we consider children's rights whenever we take decisions, and to help provide every child with a good start in life and a safe, healthy and happy childhood. It forms the basis of our national approach for supporting children, called Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC).

We have produced a guide to help children and young people understand the UNCRC.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

Scotland is set to become the first country in the UK to directly incorporate the UNCRC into domestic law. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 1 September 2020. 

The UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill will make it unlawful for public authorities to act incompatibly with the incorporated UNCRC requirements, giving children, young people and their representatives the power to go to court to enforce their rights.

The Bill:

  • directly incorporates the UNCRC as far as possible within the powers of the Scottish Parliament
  • makes it unlawful for public authorities to act incompatibly with the incorporated UNCRC requirements
  • gives power to the Children’s Commissioner to take legal action in relation to children’s rights
  • requires Ministers to produce a Children’s Rights Scheme setting out how they comply with children’s rights and to report annually
  • requires listed public authorities to report every three years on how they comply with children’s rights

The Bill also allows for incorporation of the articles of the UNCRC currently beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament, should these powers change in the future.

The Bill will revolutionise the way we listen to children and take their rights into account. By directly incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law, and to the maximum extent possible under the current powers of the Parliament, children’s rights will mean children and young people are involved in the decisions that affect their lives and that children’s rights are always respected, protected and fulfilled by public authorities. Where necessary, children will be able to go to courts to enforce their rights. The Bill is a significant step towards a future based on tolerance, equality, shared values and respect for the worth and human dignity of all people.

The approach which the Bill takes is “maximalist”. This means that the Bill incorporates in full and directly the rights and obligations in the UNCRC and the first and second optional protocols as far as is possible within the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

The rights and obligations which are being incorporated are set out in the schedule of the Bill. It is not possible to incorporate those elements of the UNCRC and the first and second optional protocols which relate to reserved matters as this would be  outside the power of the Scottish Parliament. For this reason there are some words or parts of articles which the Bill does not incorporate. A version of the UNCRC and optional protocols showing all words that have been “carved out” is available.

Further details about all of the measures provided for in the Bill and its accompanying documents can be on the Scottish Parliament’s website.

Additional information about the Bill, including a draft Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment and a short leaflet summarising the Bill, can be found here:

The Bill will now be considered by the Scottish Parliament, which will shortly invite people to share their views on the Bill. You can find out about this on the Scottish Parliament’s website.

Consultation and Engagement

We have consulted on the best way of incorporating  the UNCRC within the context of Scots law, public services and the powers of the Scottish Parliament. The consultation covered three themes:

  • legal mechanisms for incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law;
  • embedding children’s rights in public services; and
  • enabling compatibility and remedies.

The themes discussed in the consultation were used as a key framework by the Incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Domestic Law in Scotland Working Group which was convened by the Scottish Government to inform the policy development for the Bill

Involving children and young people

Human rights of children action plan

We have set out our vision and ambition to help children and young people experience their rights within the 'Progressing the human rights of children in Scotland: 2018-2021 action plan'. This includes raising awareness of children’s rights and involving them in shaping policies.

Annual cabinet meeting

In 2017 we introduced an annual cabinet meeting with representatives from the Children’s Parliament and Scottish Youth Parliament, which allows them to raise and agree actions on issues that matter most to children and young people. This has included relationships, bullying, equality, mosquito devices, period poverty, UNCRC and Brexit.

We publish progress reports:

The First Minister held an FM Question Time in 2018 and 2019 with children and young people. Topics raised have included education, mental health, housing and equalities. These events were co-ordinated by YouthLink Scotland and Children in Scotland. The 2019 event is available from Children in Scotland.

See a thank you letter to children and young people in Scotland for their contributions in 2018 to 2019.

The rights of children in employment, performances and sports

We produce a series of guidance relating to children's rights.

Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA)

We designed the CRWIA approach to support Scottish Ministers in meeting their duties under Part 1 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and in relation to the Articles of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The CRWIA helps us to assess whether our policies and legislation will realise children's rights and help protect and promote the wellbeing of children and young people.

The CRWIA can be undertaken as part of a joint impact assessment (alongside an Equality Impact Assessment, for example) provided that:

  • there is cross-referencing of issues relevant to each impact assessment
  • outputs are published separately

CRWIA guidance

We have made the CRWIA approach available for public bodies and children's services to adapt for their own use. Guidance documents and templates (updated March 2019) are below:

For additional information: see the Children's rights legislation in Scotland - quick reference guide.

Monitoring our progress

Our progress is monitored by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child through a regular reporting cycle, in which the UK has to submit a report to the Committee and respond to issues raised . We published our response to the UK's list of issues, in March 2016 ahead of the UN Committee’s examination of the UK state party in May 2016.  In July 2016, the UN Committee published its recommendations for the UK - the concluding observations.

From 1 April 2017, all public authorities must also report every three years on the steps they have taken to implement the UNCRC. The first reports are due in 2020.

In December 2018 the first ministerial report to the Scottish Parliament under Part 1 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 was published. The Progressing the human rights of children Scotland: 2018 report sets out the progress made in relation to children’s rights since June 2015. 

Contacts