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 introduce children’s rights and the UNCRC in its international form to those delivering public services.

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

On 16 March 2021, the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill (‘the UNCRC Bill’ or ‘the bill). The Bill is a landmark piece of legislation that aims to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law to the maximum extent of the Scottish Parliament’s powers. The Bill seeks to empower our children and young people to claim their rights and help to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up. We hope to be the first devolved government in the world to directly incorporate UNCRC.

Supreme Court judgment

On 12 April 2021, a reference of certain provisions of the Bill was made by UK Law Officers to the UK Supreme Court. The provisions referred to the Supreme Court were: section 6 (duty on public authorities) and sections 19 to 21 (the interpretation duty and judicial powers of ‘strike down’ and ‘incompatibility declarator’). 

On 6 October 2021, the UK Supreme Court judgment on UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill found each of the provisions referred by the UK Law Officers to be outwith the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament.

On Tuesday 24 May 2022 the Deputy First Minister made a statement in Parliament in which he set out how we propose to amend the Bill to address the Supreme Court’s judgement. Scottish Government remains committed to the incorporation of the UNCRC as far as is possible and will bring the Bill back to Parliament using the ‘Reconsideration Stage’ as soon as practicable. We have to make sure that when we do that we address the areas found to be outwith competence and avoid further successful challenge. We have undertaken targeted engagement with stakeholders, including children and young people of the fixes that we think are needed.

In February 2023, the Minister for Children and Young People provided an update to Parliament on progress in drafting amendments to the Bill, including on the focus of our engagement with the UK Government.

On the two year anniversary of the Bill being passed by Parliament, the Minister wrote an open letter to Children and Young People (which can be found on the SG’s participation blog) restating her commitment to the Bill and sent an update to the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee.

UNCRC Bill ambitions

The intent behind the UNCRC Bill is to deliver a proactive culture of everyday accountability for children’s rights across public services in Scotland. It would 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 Bill.

Children, young people and their representatives would have a new ability to use the courts to enforce their rights. The Bill would apply to all public functions within legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament, including certain functions which are ‘contracted out’ to other providers.

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 would 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 would 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 Bill sought to incorporate 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 outwith 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 on the Scottish Government website.

See the Bill as passed by the Scottish Parliament in March 2021 on the Scottish Parliament website. There are also accompanying explanatory notes and policy memorandum.

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

UNCRC implementation programme

While the Supreme Court judgment means that the Bill could not receive Royal Assent in its current form, the majority of work in relation to implementation of the UNCRC can proceed and is continuing.

We are committed to a three-year implementation programme 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, is meeting monthly 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 will help 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. This 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 have 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. If you want to learn more about children and young people’s participation, you can find more information on our dedicated webpage.

In 2017, the first Scottish Cabinet meeting with representatives from the Children’s Parliament and Scottish Youth Parliament was held. This event now takes place annually and enables children and young people to raise and agree actions on issues that matter most to them and their peers. Over the years, this has included relationships, bullying, equality, mosquito devices, period poverty, mental health and wellbeing, UNCRC and Brexit. To ensure transparency and accountability, progress reports are published each year:

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

Embedding children’s rights in public services

Ministers have made clear that the Scottish Government’s programme of work to embed children’s rights is continuing, regardless of the status of the Bill. We have issued introductory guidance on the UNCRC, and are drafting statutory guidance that would support public authorities to fulfil duties under the UNCRC Bill.

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 rights-based 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 Bill, including:

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 with content available in summer 2023
  • statutory guidance 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 capacity building programme will be implemented, including training events on taking a child rights-based approach
  • an Innovation Fund will launch in Spring 2023 to promote creative approaches to embedding child rights-based practice in culture, policy and practice. The fund will run for one year with £500,000 available to support innovation and improvement projects led by public bodies

Child rights and wellbeing impact assessment (CRWIA)

CRWIA is a process through which you can identify, research, analyse and record the anticipated impact of any proposed law, policy or measure 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 help officials satisfy Ministerial duties in relation to children’s rights under Part one of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014.

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 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:

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

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 is next due to be examined by the UN Committee in May 2023. In preparation for this, the Scottish Government contributed to the UK-wide response to the Committee’s List of Issues Prior to Reporting. In addition, to coincide with World Children’s Day in November 2022, we published the standalone Scottish Position Statement on Embedding Children's Rights.

Part 1 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 (‘the 2014 Act’), which was commenced in June 2015, requires Scottish Ministers to keep under consideration whether there are any steps which they could take which would or might secure better or further effect in Scotland of the UNCRC requirements and, if appropriate, to take steps identified by that consideration. Section 1(2) of the 2014 Act further specifies that, in complying with these duties, Ministers must “take such account as they consider appropriate of any relevant views of children of which the Scottish Ministers are aware”. Ministers are also required to promote public awareness and understanding of children’s rights, including amongst children.

The Part 1 duties also require Ministers to report to the Scottish Parliament every three years on relevant progress and their plans for the subsequent three-year period. The 2014 Act also 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. 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 the commencement date of Sections 15 and 17 of the UNCRC Bill which would place new reporting duties on authorities listed in that Bill and repeal Part 1 of the 2014 Act.

Support is available for relevant public authorities noted in Part 1 of the 2014 Act in fulfilling their reporting duties. Non statutory guidance on Part 1 of the Act encourages a child-rights based approach, which places children and young people at the centre of policy development, delivery and evaluation. 

We have produced further non-statutory guidance which introduces children’s rights and the UNCRC in its international form to those delivering public services: this supplements the Part one guidance.

In December 2018, the first ministerial report and action plan to the Scottish Parliament under Part 1 of the 2014 Act were published. The Progressing the Human Rights of Children in Scotland: 2018 Report set out the progress made in relation to children’s rights since June 2015 and the Progressing the Human Rights of Children in Scotland: 2018 to 2021 Action Plan set out our vision and ambition to help children and young people better experience their rights until 2021. Two reports setting out progress made in taking forward the actions in the 2018 Action Plan were published in 2019 and 2020:

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. An easy read version of the 2021 Report was also made available.

Once commenced, the UNCRC Bill 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 section 11 of the Bill, 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 Minister’s will be required to review and 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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