2016 is a benchmark year for children’s rights – for the first time since 2008, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child will make a number of recommendations as to how children’s human rights can be better respected, protected, and fulfilled across Scotland and the wider United Kingdom. These recommendations, known as Concluding Observations, will show where Scotland is doing well, and where more progress is needed to fulfil the Scottish Government’s ambition to make Scotland the ‘best place in the world to grow up’.
In 2009, the Scottish Government published a children’s rights action plan, “Do the Right Thing“. This action plan set out how it intended to take forward work to address the UN’s recommendations, focusing on 21 key areas of work, from promoting positive forms of parenting through to tackling child poverty and improving children’s involvement in their schooling. Whilst widely welcomed by children’s organisations, there was criticism that the action plan contained no commitment to address some pressing recommendations from the UN, such as raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility, giving children equal protection from violence, banning mosquito devices and incorporating the UNCRC in Scots law.
Together, in partnership with its members, monitors the extent to which the UN’s recommendations are taken forward through an annual State of Children’s Rights report. To inform the report and get the latest research and experience from our members, we hold an annual seminar series. With the release of the UN’s recommendations in June, and the commencement of the UNCRC duties enshrined in the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act, this year’s seminar series was more important than ever. The resulting 2016 State of Children’s Rights report will provide a baseline against the UN’s recommendations and identify actions for Scottish Government and public bodies through which they can improve children’s experiences of their rights, whilst taking forward their new duties in the new 2014 Act.
This year’s seminars were attended by representatives from a range of backgrounds engaged in policy and practice, including schools and universities, local and central government, play, health and criminal justice, as well as a diverse network of NGO bodies. In Glasgow, we found a strong political commitment to become a ‘child-friendly city’, demonstrated through the Council’s partnership with UNICEF UK. However, there was also widespread anxiety surrounding the continued constriction of resources and its impact on implementing the UNCRC; examples of resource-cutting were given in advocacy work, education services, mental health provision, and for best practice sharing between organisations. Scotland was identified as being ‘strategy rich’ for UNCRC Article 31 (the right to leisure, play and culture) with regards to play, sports and youth work, but ‘resource poor’ when it comes to transforming these strategies into practice.
These sentiments were also reflected in Edinburgh. Also strongly felt was the need to translate children’s views into action and to keep them at the centre of the decisions that affect them. Delegates contributed inspiring examples, for example, Scottish Borders Council have a group of young people who work with the Children and Young People’s Planning Partnership to help turn strategy into action. Edinburgh’s seminar also heard from Shilla Zwizwai, a care-experienced ambassador for Who Cares? Scotland. Shilla’s incredibly powerful presentation of her journey before, during and after the care system posed the critical question, how do you challenge something of which you have no knowledge? Children cannot uphold their rights if they don’t know they have them.
In Aberdeen we heard that this knowledge and awareness raising is partly addressed through the Rights Respecting Schools Award – impressively, there is an ambition for all Aberdeenshire schools to be Rights Respecting. Maxine Jolly, the Rights Respecting Schools Award Strategic Lead demonstrated the impactful of the programme across Aberdeenshire, improving self-esteem, learning, behaviour and confidence. Despite evident success, it still faces challenges in relation to its patchy implementation – it’s entirely possible that a child enrolled in one school will learn that they have the right to play, to learn and to be healthy whilst a child in a neighbouring school will never have even heard of ‘rights’. Creating an environment in which children’s rights are an equal priority for everyone is clearly a challenge ahead.
Our 2016 State of Children’s Rights report will draw from the UN’s recommendations to bring these issues to the forefront. We encourage all those working with and for children to get involved. You can do this by joining Together as a member, and through subscription to the fortnightly e-newsletter.
A combination of the new Concluding Observations, the 2014 Act and the incredible commitment to children’s rights seen throughout the State of Children’s Rights seminars offers a significant opportunity to progress children’s rights in 2016 and beyond. We’re looking forward to working with all our members to harness this energy and make Scotland a place where all children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled all of the time.
*More about the work of Together and the UNCRC reporting process which produces the Concluding Observations can be found in this short explainer video.*