Children's rights

Children's rights

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 take account of children’s rights and where all children have a voice and are empowered to be human rights defenders.

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.

Parents and families, communities, local and national governments, and organisations which work with children and families, all play a critical role in helping children understand and 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 to make it unlawful for public authorities, including the Scottish Government, to act incompatibly with the UNCRC requirements
  • 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 the Scottish Parliament and as part of the UK’s responsibilities as a state party to the UNCRC, to the United Nations


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is the base 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). Fulfilling children’s rights is also critical to our commitment to #KeepThePromise.

In partnership with Young Scot and Children in Scotland, Activate Your Rights was created by young people, for young people to find out about their rights, what the UNCRC means to them and what to do if they feel their rights aren't being respected. We have produced non-statutory guidance to support public authorities to deliver a children’s human rights approach in policy and practice.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Act 2024

On 7 December 2023, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill for the second time. The Bill received Royal Assent on 16 January 2024 and is now the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Act

The Act is a landmark piece of legislation that incorporates the UNCRC into Scots law, empowers our children and young people to claim their rights and will help to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up. We will be the first devolved government in the world to directly incorporate UNCRC.

Supreme Court judgment

The UNCRC was originally passed by the Scottish Parliament in March 2021 but, in April 2021, was subject to a reference made by UK Law Officers to the UK Supreme Court. 

In October 2021, the UK Supreme Court judgment on UNCRC Bill found that some provisions were outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

Following that judgment, the Bill was amended to reflect our new understanding of the Scottish Parliament’s devolved competence and bring it back to Parliament using the ‘Reconsideration Stage’.

In June 2023, The Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice gave an update to Parliament on the Bill and provided clarity about how we intended to amend the compatibility duty, which makes it unlawful for a public authority to act in a way that is incompatible with the UNCRC requirements. She explained that in drafting these amendments, we tried to balance three important considerations: protecting children’s rights to the maximum effective extent possible; minimising the risk of another Supreme Court referral; and making the law as accessible as possible for users.

The conclusion was that the most effective coverage for the compatibility duty was for it to apply only when public authorities are delivering duties under powers in an Act of the Scottish Parliament. Although this will entail a loss of coverage for existing Acts of the UK Parliament in devolved areas, it will still provide valuable protections for children rights and do so in a way that is legally sound, as clear as possible for users and gives us a solid basis from which to begin our journey to legislate for children's rights and wider human rights.

The duty to read and give effect to legislation in a way that is compatible with the UNCRC requirements and the power to strike down incompatible legislation or to issue an incompatibility declarator will also apply only in relation to legislation originating from the Scottish Parliament.

UNCRC Act ambitions

The intent behind the UNCRC Act is to deliver a proactive culture of everyday accountability for children’s rights across public services in Scotland. It will require all Scotland’s public authorities to take proactive steps to ensure the protection of children’s rights in their decision-making and service delivery and make it unlawful for public authorities, including the Scottish Government, to act incompatibly with the UNCRC requirements as set out in the Act.

Children, young people and their representatives will have a new ability to use the courts to enforce their rights. The compatibility duty will apply to certain functions carried out under a contract or other arrangement with a public authority.

Specific measures aim to remove barriers that children and young people may face in exercising their rights under the legislation and in accessing justice. These provisions include giving the Children and Young People’s Commissioner in Scotland and the Scottish Human Rights Commission the power to raise claims in the public interest.

Ministers will be required to publish a Children’s Rights Scheme, setting out the arrangements we are putting in place to fulfil its duties under the UNCRC and to secure or further strengthen children’s rights.

The Scottish Government and listed authorities will also be required to report on steps they have taken to ensure compatibility with the incorporated UNCRC rights and obligations and to secure better or further effect of children’s rights.

The rights and obligations which the Act incorporates are set out in the schedule of the Act. 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 outwith the power of the Scottish Parliament. For this reason there are some words or parts of articles which the Act does not incorporate. A version of the UNCRC and optional protocols showing all words that have been “carved out” is on our website.

Commencement of the provisions in the Act

We have arranged for early commencement of the provisions that allow us consult on and publish statutory guidance for public authorities and to produce court rules for dealing with incompatibility cases. These provisions commenced on 31 January 2024. All other provisions, including the compatibility duty, will commence on 16 July 2024. This will be over 3 years after the original Bill was passed in March 2021. Since then our implementation programme has continued at pace and we now have a wide range of support in place. 

UNCRC implementation programme

The majority of work in relation to implementation of the UNCRC has been proceeding while Bill was amended and then considered by Parliament during the Reconsideration Stage.

We committed to a three-year implementation programme from 2021-2024 to implement the UNCRC in Scottish society, in collaboration with public authorities and children and young people.

The UNCRC Strategic Implementation Board, established in July 2021, currently meets every two months to provide strategic vision and oversight of a comprehensive and joined-up implementation programme. The Board includes representation from leaders in the children’s rights sector, public authorities and the wider third sector. Across the range of members are those who represent the views of duty bearers and the views of rights holders.

To support planning for implementation, we grant-funded a project to develop a Theory of Change for Making Children’s Rights Real in Scotland. The products from this work have helped to consider not only if there are any gaps in the three-year implementation programme that need to be filled, but also to identify indicators that our building blocks are in place and that they are making a difference to outcomes for children and young people. The report will also help others to recognise where they have a role to play in supporting our vision and how they can drive forward change that makes children’s rights real.

In partnership with Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) the Children’s Rights Unit established an ‘Interim Consortium’ of organisations to represent the views of children and young people on the Strategic Implementation Board from the outset. As a result, children and young people provided advice and guidance and contributed to the development of the Progressing the Human Rights of Children in Scotland: An Action Plan 2021 to 2024.

The strands of the implementation programme are:

  • Scottish Government leadership in children’s rights
  • empowered children and young people
  • embedding children’s rights in public services
  • children’s rights reporting and monitoring

Participation of children and young people

Under Article 12 of the UNCRC, every child has the right to be heard in matters affecting them and to participate in the life of their family, community and society. There are many sources of guidance on children and young people’s participation in decision-making available to help those who are engaging or thinking of engaging with children and young people. Read more about children and young people’s participation on our dedicated webpage.

Read a blog post from the Minister for Children and Young People and Keeping the Promise to celebrate World Children’s Day 2023 and a message to children from the Cabinet Secretary for Social Justice. 

Since 2017, the annual Cabinet meeting with children and young people (CYP) has ensured an on-going channel for dialogue between Cabinet Ministers and CYP and demonstrates the government’s commitment to ensuring that CYP are at the heart of decisions that affect them, as set out in Article 12 of the UNCRC. To ensure CYP are informed of progress from the Cabinet meeting we publish reports each year. This is our most recent:

Embedding children’s rights in public services

While the reference to the Supreme court resulted in a delay in the incorporation of the UNCRC, the Scottish Government’s programme of work to embed children’s rights continued. We have issued non statutory guidance to support public authorities and other organisations in implementing a children’s human rights approach and are drafting statutory guidance that would support public authorities to fulfil duties under the UNCRC Act.

Public services play a vital role in delivering for children, young people and their communities and the Scottish Government is committed to working in collaboration with partners in public services to deliver our shared ambitions for children’s rights.

We are delivering and further developing a responsive programme of work to support public authorities to ensure they can implement a children's human rights approach to practice every day so that children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. We have made available a range of resources that may assist public services with preparations for the UNCRC Act, including:

  • non statutory guidance on taking a children’s human rights approach
  • advice and guidance on enabling children and young people’s participation in decision-making
  • Children’s Rights Knowledge Hub
  • the children’s rights guide for senior leaders in public services in Scotland which provides an introduction to the UNCRC and shares what the UNCRC Act will mean for public services
  • the Getting Ready for UNCRC framework which will support organisations to consider where they are in terms of their readiness for incorporation, help them to identify gaps or areas for improvements, and inform discussions on next steps
  • a short animation created with Carers Trust Scotland, Parent Network Scotland, Renfrewshire Youth and Partners in Advocacy which provides a helpful introduction to UNCRC for children and shows the types of interactions young people might have with public authorities about their rights. It could be used to help staff understand how children’s rights apply in their role
  • an Innovation Fund is providing financial support for testing and implementing creative approaches to embedding children's rights in public bodies. The projects will run up to December 2024 and will share lessons learned from creative approaches to embedding child rights based practice in culture, policy, and practice

There is also a range of further support for public authorities in development. Current developments in progress include:

  • a Children’s Rights Skills and Knowledge Framework which will provide a single point to easily access resources and training for a wide range of sectors, giving users an enhanced understanding of how they can fulfil their duties on children’s rights. This will be available in summer 2024
  • statutory guidance on Part 2 and Part 3, section 18 (reporting duty on listed authorities) including an optional review framework that public authorities may wish to consider to assist as part of their efforts to comply with the UNCRC requirements
  • a child-friendly model complaints process developed by the Scottish Public Services Ombudsman for authorities under its remit. This will be available in April 2024 and will also be made available to other organisations should they wish to adopt this

Other work has included: 

  • setting up the Regulation and Improvement action group, to support regulators to embed child rights considerations into their practice and the practice of the organisations they reach. The group will assist the Scottish Government to identify and implement practical steps to further embed children’s rights within regulatory frameworks and inspection regimes
  • liaising with listed authorities to assess their readiness in embedding children’s rights in their practice and identify what further support may be required as we near commencement of the Act
  • working with the Improvement Service to develop and deliver targeted support for local authorities. This partnership is building on existing work and relationships that the Improvement Service have with authorities, with a view to influencing and embedding a children’s human rights based approach, particularly in relation to raising awareness, building capacity and supporting cultural change. We are working with NHS Education for Scotland (NES) to offer similar support to health boards

Child rights and wellbeing impact assessment (CRWIA)

The CRWIA is a process, tool and report, through which you can identify, research, analyse and record the anticipated impact any proposed law, strategic decision, project or service will have on children’s human rights and wellbeing. CRWIAs allow officials to provide Ministers, stakeholders and the public with evidence that proper consideration has been given to the impact that a policy/measure will have on children and young people up to the age of 18. CRWIAs currently help officials satisfy Ministerial duties in relation to children’s rights under Part one of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

From 16 July 2024, the duties in section 17 of the UNCRC Act will require Scottish Ministers to prepare and publish a CRWIA for all Bills, certain Scottish Statutory Instruments and decisions of a strategic nature relating to the rights and wellbeing of children and young people.

Article four of the UNCRC requires governments ‘to undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognised in the UNCRC’. CRWIAs (CIRAs) are internationally recognised as a means of upholding and fulfilling children’s rights in the decision-making process and are recognised as one of the general measures of implementation under the UNCRC. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends that all levels of government – national, regional and local – should complete a CRWIA as part of their policy development. Our use of CRWIA is a vital means of upholding and respecting children’s rights.

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 November 2021) are below:

Monitoring our progress

We are committed to monitoring and evaluating progress on children’s rights realisation. Internationally, 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. Following the UK State party’s interactive Dialogue Session with the UN Committee in May 2016, the UN Committee published its Concluding Observations for the UK, to help guide the advancement of children’s rights. These have been used centrally to guide the Scottish Government’s approach to developing the UNCRC Bill and the UNCRC implementation programme.

The UK State Party was examined by the UN Committee as part of the periodic reporting cycle under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in May 2023. Following this session, the UN Committee published its Concluding Observations for the UK State party on 2 June 2023. These set out around 200 recommendations for taking forward children’s rights in all jurisdictions of the UK, including Scotland. We are preparing an initial written response to the Concluding Observations for publication in early 2024.

Part 1 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (‘the 2014 Act’), which was commenced in June 2015, placed a duty on specified listed authorities to publish a report every three years on the steps they have taken in that period to secure better or further effect the UNCRC requirements within their areas of responsibility. The first reports were due as soon as is practicable after 1 April 2020. Non statutory guidance on Part 1 of the Act  was made available to support relevant public authorities in fulfilling their reporting duties.

The Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 had allowed public authorities to postpone publishing their report if doing so would lessen their ability to respond to the pandemic. Listed authorities who had made use of these provisions should be aware these have now expired, with outstanding reports for the period 1 April 2017 to 31 March 2020 continuing to be due as soon as is practicable. In addition, listed authorities should continue to report in line with the requirements set out in Part 1 Section 2 of the 2014 Act for the period 1 April 2020 to 31 March 2023. This applies irrespective of section 18 and 17 of the UNCRC Act which will place new reporting duties on listed authorities and repeals Part 1 of the 2014 Act.

Section 18 of the UNCRC Act will commence on 16 July 2024 with the first reports due as soon as practicable after 31 March 2026.

Statutory guidance will be available to support listed authorities in meeting this requirement.

In line with duties under Part 1 of the 2014 Act, on 19 November 2021 we published the Progressing the Human Rights of Children in Scotland: A Report 2018 to 2021, setting out progress made in taking forward children’s rights since 2018. The Progressing the Human Rights of Children in Scotland: Action Plan 2021 to 2024, which was also published at this time, sets out our plans for furthering the rights of children until 2024. We also published an easy read version of the 2021 Report.

Once commenced, the UNCRC Act will require Scottish Ministers to make a Children’s Rights Scheme, which sets out the arrangements that are in place, or will be put in place to ensure that they do not act incompatibly with the UNCRC requirements as set out in the Bill. The Scheme, which is provided for in sections 14-16 of the Act, is a crucial mechanism to promote and deliver the aim and ambition of embedding a children’s rights culture in Scotland, which underpins this legislation.

The Scheme, which Ministers will be required to report on annually, will be an important part of the framework established by the Bill to ensure that there is regular consideration and scrutiny of the steps Ministers must take to ensure that children’s rights are realised in practice and deliver improved outcomes for all children and young people in Scotland.

The rights of children in employment and performances

We have a series of guidance documents relating to children's rights in employment and performances:


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