United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child implementation: introductory guidance

Non-statutory guidance developed in partnership with public authorities and the third sector, introducing key concepts within the UNCRC and links with further resources for embedding a children’s rights-based approach in public services.

Supporting the realisation of the UNCRC

UNCRC Implementation Programme

The cultural change required to ensure that children's rights are fully and progressively realised in practice starts with those delivering public functions for the people of Scotland. The Scottish Government has developed a three-year UNCRC Implementation Programme running from April 2021 to March 2024 to ensure that children's rights are respected, protected and fulfilled in Scotland.

The programme priorities have been shaped by listening to children and young people and their families, public bodies, third sector organisations and academics. It aims to deliver change in all aspects of public life, supporting full realisation of all children's rights in practice.

UNCRC Strategic Implementation Board

The Scottish Government has established a Strategic Implementation Board to champion the UNCRC Implementation Programme with collective responsibility across public bodies and the third sector for successful implementation.

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.

The experiences, ideas, feedback and views of children, young people and their families will inform decision making across all levels of governance through a programme of meaningful and inclusive participation.

"Scottish Government should take into account children's opinions – this meeting is one way of doing it."

Member of Interim Children and Young People's Consortium

Plans for further support

To ensure that public services are appropriately supported in delivering the step-change in respecting, protecting and fulfilling children's rights, the Scottish Government will continue to work collaboratively with public authorities and third sector partners to ensure that future guidance on the UNCRC is accessible and best meets the needs of duty-bearers and the rights of the children and young people they serve.

The Scottish Government is working in partnership with the UNCRC Short-Term Working Group for Guidance to produce accessible guidance. In addition to guidance, capacity-building support and other complementary materials will be made available:

Scoping is underway for a Children's Rights Skills and Knowledge Framework, with accompanying Training Plan, to build capability across all sectors and workforces of Scotland. Planning is also underway for a National Improvement Programme (NIP), which will provide support for implementing the Children's Rights Skills and Knowledge Framework in improvement projects in local communities. We are also securing support from a range of partners with extensive skills, expertise and knowledge in embedding children's rights.

More detail on the full package of support will be made available before the end of 2021.

Sources to aid interpretation

There are many sources that may be useful for those delivering public services when considering how to apply the UNCRC to their policy and practice.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, a body set up by the UN to monitor the progress that States make in keeping their human rights promises under the UNCRC, issues General Comments, Concluding Observations, views and findings under the third Optional Protocol (yet to be ratified by the UK) and recommendations following days of general discussion.

These are all sources that can assist in interpreting the UNCRC. They are available on the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) website. These sources provide guidance but are not legally binding in international law.

These sources are in addition to the experience and practice that already exists across public services and the courts in applying the UNCRC at present.

Members of the Children's Parliament discussed the need to make UNCRC rights real in Scotland in December 2019: The time is now (Children's Parliament and the UNCRC)

General Comments

General Comments provide interpretation and analysis of the UNCRC articles to help States understand how the UNCRC can be put into practice. For example, General Comment 12 specifically focuses on a child's right to be heard.

Concluding Observations

The UNCRC requires countries which have adopted the UNCRC to report on the steps they have taken to implement the Convention. The Committee on the Rights of the Child review these reports and produce a set of country-specific suggestions and recommendations known as 'Concluding Observations', highlighting positive practice and recommending areas for improvement. The Scottish Government was last examined by the Committee on the Rights of the Child in May 2016, as part of UK reporting.

Days of General Discussion

The Committee holds general meetings every two years, focused on a specific article of the UNCRC or a related subject. These meetings are an opportunity to develop a deeper understanding of the contents and implications of the UNCRC. In recent years, the committee has raised the rights of all children regarding international migration (2012) and the child's rights in relation to digital media (2014).

Communications issued under Optional Protocol 3

The UNCRC has three Optional Protocols. These set out extra provisions which have been written after the treaty was adopted. Optional Protocol 3 allows children to make a complaint to the Committee on the Rights of the Child if they believe their rights under the UNCRC have been violated. The Committee then considers the case and communicates its views to the parties concerned. Optional Protocol 3 has not been ratified by the United Kingdom. The communications issued by the Committee may be of use in interpreting the UNCRC requirements.

Decisions of the Courts

While there is no international court responsible for the interpretation and implementation of the UNCRC, a number of courts, including courts in the UK and abroad, have referred to the UNCRC in their decisions.

It may be that these rulings can assist in interpreting the UNCRC.

Child Rights-based Approach

Developed by the Child Friendly Cities & Communities programme at the UK Committee for UNICEF (UNICEF UK), a child rights-based approach brings together the general principles of the UNCRC and the international human rights framework to offer a practical tool for working with and for children and young people.

The tool helps to translate the UNCRC into practice by guiding the user through seven principles. It places children and young people at the centre of policy development and the design, delivery and evaluation of services, and has been proven to lead to better outcomes.

Full details on taking a child rights-based approach to policy and practice.

A child rights-based approach is made up of seven principles. They offer guidance by describing the quality of care and provision that each child should experience when using services that are grounded in children's rights.

  • Dignity - Each child is a unique person with intrinsic worth and should be respected and valued in all circumstances.
  • Best interests of the child - Determining and doing what is best for a child, with that child, at that time and in that situation.
  • Non-discrimination - Each child is treated fairly and protected from discrimination.
  • Life, survival and development - Each child is able to develop, thrive, achieve and flourish.
  • Participation - Each child is heard in matters affecting them and participates in the lives of their family, community and wider society.
  • Interdependence and indivisibility - Each child enjoys all rights enshrined in the UNCRC, whatever the circumstances.
  • Transparency and accountability - Dependable, open and accountable relationships and dialogue between Local Government, communities, families and children and young people is essential in the collective goal of securing children's rights.

"Children have opinions and they should not be overlooked just because of their age."

Member of Children's Parliament in "What kind of Scotland?"

Engaging Children and Young People in decision making

Under Article 12 (UNCRC), every child who is capable of forming his or her own views has the right to be heard in matters affecting them. General Comment 12 from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child sets out its view that there are nine basic requirements for effective participation.

Effective participation must be:

  • Transparent and informative
  • Voluntary
  • Respectful
  • Relevant to children and young people
  • Child-friendly
  • Inclusive
  • Supported by training
  • Safe and sensitive to risk
  • Accountable

The Scottish Government wants to make it the norm for children and young people to be involved in decision-making across Scotland, so that they are at the heart of decisions that affect them at local and national levels. This is in line with Article 12 of the UNCRC and we are therefore developing a strategic approach to children and young people's participation, as part of our work on children's rights. This approach is part of our Year of Young People 2018 legacy.

We have also developed a guide to support those who have or want to engage with children and young people as part of their decision-making.

Further information on the skills and values needed to work with children can be found in the Common Core and the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland's 7 Golden Rules for Participation.

"Children would get the right support if people actually listened to children and asked them how they're feeling."

Young person's response to SG consultation


Email: UNCRCIncorporation@gov.scot

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