Children's rights

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 take account of children’s rights and where all children have a voice and are empowered to be human rights defenders.
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 to the United Nations as part of the UK’s responsibilities as a state party to 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). Fulfilling children’s rights is also critical to our commitment to #KeepThePromise.

We have produced a guide to help children and young people understand the UNCRC. 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 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 – signalling a revolution in children’s rights in Scotland. 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.

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’). A hearing before the UK Supreme Court took place on 28 and 29 June 2021.

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.

While the 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.

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. We remain committed to the incorporation of the UNCRC to the maximum extent possible and will bring the Bill back to Parliament via 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 are undertakingtargeted engagement with stakeholders, including children and young people of the fixes that we think are needed.

Following the Deputy First Minister’s statement, we undertook a period of targeted engagement with stakeholders, including children and young people.This engagement period concluded on 17 June 2022. The purpose of that engagement will be to ensure that those who have lobbied passionately for this Bill understand the changes that are being made and why. The engagement will also help us understand any concerns that need to be aired during Reconsideration Stage.

On 30 June 2022, the Deputy First Minister wrote to the Equalities, Human Rights and Civil Justice Committee to provide further update on the Bill stakeholder engagement and next steps.

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 here.

Further details about all of the measures provided for in the Bill and its accompanying documents can be found 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:

Consultation and Engagement

The Bill was informed by a public consultation on incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into our domestic law in Scotland. The Children's Rights Working Group was convened by the Scottish Government. The Group considered the policy, practice and legislative implications of UNCRC incorporation, using our consultation document as the framework for discussions.

Participation of children and young people

Annual Cabinet meeting

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 allows 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.

Children’s rights during the COVID-19 pandemic

We consider that now is a time when the importance of upholding children’s rights is more necessary than ever. In line with our 'Coronavirus (COVID-19): framework for decision making’, a children’s rights approach is being embedded into our response to COVID-19 and our approach to recovery and renewal. We continue to review the impacts of our response to COVID-19, through the preparation of Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessments (CRWIA) for key policies and legislation.

We continue to consider the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s 11 recommended areas for governments to focus on when considering the rights of children in relation to the pandemic. We have produced regular reports for Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights) on the action being taken in relation to these recommendations. The latest reports can be found here:

COVID-19 Children and Families Collective Leadership Group

In May 2020, we established a COVID-19 Children and Families Collective Leadership Group to focus on vulnerable children and young people. As part of this work a consortium of 9 stakeholders worked to seek the views and real lived experiences of vulnerable and seldom heard children, young people and families. A qualitative study was published in July 2021. Outcomes from this work will continue to inform the work of the Collective Leadership Group and policy areas across in response to the pandemic.

The Children’s Parliament has delivered, “Children and the Coronavirus: How are you doing?”, an online survey of children, aged between 8 and 14 years old, from across Scotland on their concerns about COVID-19. The survey ran 3 times between April and June 2020, collecting over 11,000 results, with a further survey to coincide with the return to school. A final report is now available. 

The Children’s Parliament also undertook 15 qualitative interviews with children aged 3 to 7 years old and their families to understand the impact of COVID-19 on this age group. In a published series of 15 stories, parents and children reflect upon their experience of lockdown and the journey since.

The Scottish Youth Parliament, Young Scot and YouthLink Scotland (in partnership) have delivered three waves of “LockdownLowdown”, a series of online surveys to help identify the impact of COVID-19 on their lives. The second survey included the delivery of focus groups with cohorts of vulnerable children and young people: Lockdown Lowdown: The Voice of Seldom Heard Groups During COVID-19 Pandemic Report.

Findings for each of the LockdownLowdown surveys can be found here:

UNCRC Implementation Programme

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. Between now and 2024, we are continuing our work to implement the UNCRC by investing £4 million per year over three years to support the delivery of a fundamental shift in the way children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled in Scotland.

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.

We will continue delivering at pace the majority of work in relation to implementation of the UNCRC.

The strands of the three year 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 Resolution.

Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA)

The Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (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. CRWIA’s 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 (the “2014 Act”).

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 one of the general measures of implementation under the Convention. 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.

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

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. The UK is next due to be examined by the UN Committee in early 2023. We are contributing to the UK-wide response to UN Committee’s List of Issues Prior to Reporting for the UK, which is being compiled by the UK Government. 

From 1 April 2017, part one (duties of public authorities in relation to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child), section two of the 2014 Act places a duty on specified public authorities, including all local authorities and health boards, to report every three years on the steps they have taken in that period to secure better or further effect of the requirements of the UNCRC. The public authorities subject to these duties are listed in schedule one to the 2014 Act. The first report was due as soon as practicable after 1 April 2020.

Provisions within the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act 2020 Act enabled public authorities to delay the publication of their children’s rights report, if doing so would hinder their ability to respond to the pandemic. The Coronavirus (Extension and Expiry) (Scotland) Act 2021 came into force on 5 August 2021 and extended the expiry date of those provisions until 31 March 2022 (with the possibility of extending further by regulations until 30 September 2022). In order to make use of this extension power, the public authority must publish a statement confirming the decision to delay.

Support is available for relevant public authorities noted in Part one of the 2014 Act in fulfilling their reporting duties. Non statutory guidance on Part one 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 one of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 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 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 one 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 2018 to 2021 Report was also made available.

The rights of children in employment, performances and sports

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


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