The current year has been incredibly challenging for Scotland’s children, young people and their families, with the global coronavirus pandemic and the impact of necessary measures to protect public health and our NHS. I am immensely proud and impressed with the way in which our children and young people have responded to these unprecedented circumstances.
Throughout the pandemic, we have taken steps to hear the views and lived experiences of children and young people and to empower them to participate in decisions around the crisis that affect them. We have also worked with partners to take a holistic approach to our response, consistent with 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.
Now is a time when children and young people’s rights matter more than ever. I am delighted, therefore, that on 1 September 2020, we introduced to Parliament the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation)(Scotland) Bill. The Bill aims to make Scotland the first country in the UK to directly incorporate the UNCRC - the gold standard for children’s rights - into domestic law. It is one of the most significant pieces of legislation to be introduced to the Scottish Parliament since devolution and, if passed, will revolutionise the way in which we listen to children and take their rights into account.
In line with the commitment that the Deputy First Minister made on the 30th anniversary of the UNCRC in November 2019, the Bill will seek to incorporate the Convention directly into Scots law to the maximum extent possible within the powers of the Scottish Parliament. This will ensure that the rights contained in the UNCRC are afforded the highest protection and respect possible within our constitutional settlement. The Bill aims to ensure that children, young people and their families will experience public bodies acting consistently to uphold the rights of all children in Scotland. If they don’t, children, young people and their representatives will be able to use the courts to enforce their rights. The Bill will require the Scottish Ministers to publish a Children’s Rights Scheme to set out what arrangements it has, or will have in place, to comply with the compatibility duty outlined in the Bill. The Scheme will include arrangements for undertaking Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessments (CRWIA), which will become a statutory requirement for new legislation and relevant strategic decisions. The Children’s Rights Scheme will ensure that Scottish Ministers are not only accountable for their actions in relation to the compatibility duty under the Bill, but that they are accountable for planning and reporting on how they will fulfil the rights and obligations under the Bill in practice.
I want to express my heartfelt thanks to the many children, young people and stakeholders who have contributed towards the development of the draft legislation. The Bill is intended to complete its passage through Parliament by the end of the current session in spring next year.
The commitment to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law and to further promoting the use of the CRWIA are 2 of 4 strategic actions listed in our Progressing the Human Rights of Children in Scotland: An Action Plan 2018-21. The Action Plan also includes commitments to develop a strategic approach to participation and a programme to raise awareness and understanding of children’s rights across all sectors of society in Scotland. These are vital elements in preparing for and implementing the incorporation of the UNCRC and key to ensuring that all children and young people have their human rights protected, respected and fulfilled.
This report is our second annual update on progress made in taking forward these strategic actions. It also updates on the wider work that we have taken forward this year with the aim of giving further and fuller effect to children’s rights including:
- The Children (Scotland) Act 2020, which will improve the experiences of children and young people in child contact and residence cases.
- Our commitment to taking forward “The Promise” (which is the main report published by the Independent Care Review), to transform how Scotland cares so that all children grow up loved, safe and respected.
- The consultation on increasing the age at which children can be referred to the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration on care, protection and offence grounds.
- Work to implement the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019, which provides children with the same legal protection from assault as adults.
- Our ongoing commitment to take account of the views and needs of children and young people as we take forward ambitious action to help tackle the global climate and nature crises.
Further information about current actions, key strategic plans and other initiatives relevant to progressing the human rights of all children and young people in Scotland is provided in the Annex to the report.
Underpinning all of this work is our continued focus on our vision of a Scotland where children are recognised as citizens in their own right, where their 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.
This is an exciting time to be involved in ambitious reforms which will deliver wide-ranging benefits for Scotland’s children and young people, particularly those who are most vulnerable. I look forward to continuing to work in partnership to deliver this important and transformational agenda in the year ahead.
Maree Todd MSP
Minister for Children and Young People