Landmark for children’s rights

MSPs back UN Convention on the Rights of the Child Bill.

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

MSPs voted unanimously for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill to become law, meaning public authorities will have to comply with children’s rights. The Bill will commence six months from Royal Assent, signalling a culture shift that has the potential to transform children’s lives in Scotland.

Only a small number of nations have directly incorporated the UNCRC into domestic law and Scotland will be the first country in the UK to do so.

The UNCRC 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 Bill:

  • directly incorporates the UNCRC as far as possible within the powers of the Scottish Parliament
  • makes it unlawful for public authorities and anyone undertaking functions or providing services to children with public money 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
  • gives children, young people and their representatives the right to go to court to enforce their rights, if necessary

A £2.1 million programme over three years will help public authorities implement the legislation. This will include funding for guidance and training to help public authorities prepare for implementation. Work will also be done to empower children to claim their rights.

Deputy First Minister John Swinney said:

“This is a landmark Bill which is the most significant piece of legislation since devolution, delivering a revolution in children’s rights. That is a major cause for celebration.

“The Bill will deliver the highest protection possible for children’s rights across Scotland within the powers of this Parliament and ensure that a rights-respecting approach is at the heart of our recovery from the pandemic.  

“Parliament passing this Bill means that Scotland stands amongst a small number of nations like Norway, Belgium and Finland, and I hope our action today will encourage other countries to follow suit.

“But it does not represent the end of the journey in making children’s rights real.  It is now incumbent upon us all to ensure the Bill’s ambitions are translated into real-life improvements which transform the lives and life chances of our children and young people.”

Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland Bruce Adamson said:

“Scotland has shown real human rights leadership in incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law. It is the most important thing we can do to protect and uphold the rights of children and young people. Exactly 18 years ago, the Scottish Parliament showed its commitment to children’s rights by creating the office of the Children’s Commissioner and today it has reinforced that commitment by passing the Scottish Government’s world-leading children’s human rights legislation. This will improve life for all children but children whose rights are most at risk will feel the biggest impact.”

Director of Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) Juliet Harris said:

“In passing this Bill, the Scottish Parliament is making a promise to children and young people that their human rights will be at the heart of every decision impacting children that Scotland makes. This historic moment will be celebrated by the countless children, young people and charities across Together’s membership who have worked so hard over the past decade to make this happen. This Bill is a significant step forward in ensuring Scotland is a great place to grow up – for today’s children and young people and for future generations.”


The UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

The Bill incorporates the UNCRC and Optional Protocols 1 and 2 to the maximum extent of the Scottish Parliament’s powers. The articles being brought into Scots law will include requiring public authorities, in actions concerning children, to make the best interests of children a primary consideration; to protect children from violence, injury or abuse; to recognise the rights of children with disabilities to enjoy a full and decent life; and to uphold children’s rights to an adequate standard of living.

The Bill will ensure that there is a proactive culture of everyday accountability for children’s rights across public services in Scotland. This will mean that children, young people and their families will experience public bodies consistently acting to uphold the rights of all children in Scotland.



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