Where next for UNCRC incorporation into UK law?

By Liz Millership, Membership & Events Officer, Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights)

The Rights of the Child UK (ROCK) is a coalition of organisations and individuals from each of the 4 UK nations pushing for full incorporation of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into UK law. On Tuesday 3rd February, the ROCK steering group brought together delegates from the across the UK to discuss what progress each jurisdiction has made, what challenges they have faced, and what the next steps might be towards full incorporation.

As Paola Uccellari of the Children’s Rights Alliance in England (CRAE) emphasised, there is some way to go before the UNCRC is fully accepted and incorporated into UK law. Lack of political will is a common barrier to incorporation experienced by each of the jurisdictions, an issue which Baroness Walmsley correctly identified as needing “a Minister who wants to make it happen and a battle against those who don’t”. Governments must be shown that incorporation does not equal excessive spending and additional layers of bureaucracy, but rather saves money in appeals and Court time. It is currently a slow and frustrating task to identify sympathetic advocates within Government who are only able to take a piecemeal approach to incorporate a Convention signed over 20 years ago.ROCK

However, when hearing from each of the 4 nations, it’s clear that we are moving in the right direction. Steps such as The Rights of Children and Young Person’s (Wales) Measure means Welsh ministers have a duty of due regard to the rights enshrined in the CRC, and Part 1 duties of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act provides opportunities to mainstream children’s rights across Government departments. Whilst in many ways these measures do not go far enough, they are baby steps towards further commitment and progress in engaging government in children’s rights.

A current of keen concern was felt throughout the day over Westminster plans to repeal the Human Rights Act, and the uncertainty of moving forward in light of this in the run-up to the 2015 UK general election. As well as the highly complex process of repealing the Act in the devolution context, the Human Rights Act is the best protection of children’s rights that we have, embedding many of those covered in the UNCRC. As Sanchita Hosali of the British Institute of Human Rights highlighted, it is a difficult time to balance utilising what historical advancements we have made with pushing for future incorporation. It’s becoming increasingly salient to use the language of human rights in all debates, to combat lingering negativity and to make rights visible, accessible and understandable, for all ages.


We don’t need to look far to see examples of full or partial incorporation of the UNCRC. Dr Bronagh Byrne highlighted models from Spain, where the UNCRC has been incorporated fully through its constitution, or in Norway and Iceland where it has been fully incorporated through legislation. Other countries such as South Africa have implemented partial incorporation through Sections 28 and 29 of a Bill of Rights. The various models teach us that there is no one formula for incorporation, and that political and public context is vital for laying down the foundations for incorporation[1].

There was a consensus during the concluding remarks on the need for a strategy to push for the ratification of Optional Protocol 3 to the UNCRC in the UK, with Professor Geraldine van Bueren QC outlining current examples of ratification throughout Europe[2]. Developing such a strategy whilst debunking any myths that economic, social and cultural rights are a barrier to the UK signing up could be a key focal point on which ROCK can move forward.

The day underscored the continued need to share and disseminate significant messages, ideas and knowledge between each of the 4 UK nations on how to incorporate the UNCRC into UK law, and to do so in such a way as to make the rights framework not simply an add-on but a part of everything we do. As a former science teacher remarked at the lunch break, “I was exercising children’s rights every day, I just didn’t know it”.

  • For a full list of the agenda, plus links to speaker presentations, please visit the ROCK website here.

[1] Refer to Queens University Belfast and UNICEF UK report: http://www.unicef.org.uk/Documents/Publications/UNICEFUK_2012CRCimplentationreport.pdf

[2] There have been 15 ratifications worldwide of which 10 have been in Europe: Albania, Belgium, Germany, Ireland, Monaco, Montenegro, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Andorra. Find out more here: ratifyop3crc.org

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