Together recently held a series of four ‘UNCRC in Scotland‘ seminars in partnership with the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships (CRFR) at the University of Edinburgh and the Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection (CCWP) at the University of Stirling. The seminar series — funded by SUII — sought to improve and address gaps in the implementation and monitoring of the UNCRC in Scotland. Members of the Glasgow Youth Council and the Scottish Youth Parliament were invited to attend the seminars as part of a film-making and creative project. As the seminar series progressed, the involvement of these young people became so much more as they learnt about the UNCRC across law, practice and policy, eventually Chairing the final seminar on next steps for implementation. After meeting Suki Wan, Thomas McEachan and Joel Meekison during the seminar series, Aberdeen City Council invited the three of them to Aberdeen to share best practice of embedding a child-rights based approach into planning and services.
This blog was written by Joel Meekison on his experience of the visit to Aberdeen. Joel has been a member of the Glasgow Youth Council for two years and has worked on numerous events including the organisation and Chairing of the Lord Provost’s International Women’s Day. He has just graduated from Hyndland Secondary School to start University this year studying public relations and media. Alongside his increase work in youth advocacy, Joel is an award-winning debater.
At the age of 6, would you have known which UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) Article gave you the right to clean water? No… Us neither. But some can!
As a kid growing up, there is always a fascination over “why“? Be it “why does that happen?” or “why did they do that?”…and we know that most of the fascination comes with the allure of our questions not being answered. Then slowly, as we age, we come to terms with the truth that nothing really ‘just happens’ and usually the real reason is more boring than what we had previously thought.
It was this experience of asking why things happen, and then finding out that there is a wealth of time, expertise, and resources that go into making it happen that led to me on a trip to Aberdeen. As a Glasgow Youth Councillor, I have had a chance over the past few months to see what really goes into supporting and enforcing children’s rights. It became quickly apparent that in Scotland, there is a huge number of people passionate about and involved in children’s rights, from those who research ways of implementing children’s rights and techniques of increasing participation of children and young people, to those who actually work in the youth legal system – in Scotland we really do have what’s called a ‘Children Rights Tribe’.
On the trip to Aberdeen, this sense was amplified. There was a big presence of the UNICEF Rights Respecting Schools programme where the rights laid out in the UNCRC are integrated into learning and are fitted into every aspect of what children learn at school. This results not only in children knowing about their rights, but the teachers and pupils working in an environment where these rights are actually met. The trip gave us a chance to listen to some of those who learn in rights-respecting schools and hear about the work they do. More than anything, it was so refreshing to hear children engaged in their rights and what is affecting them in their city at a time when young people are coming under such fire for apathy in civic society.
How to go about achieving effective engagement with young people and making them aware of their rights is a well researched area? Organisations like the United Nations and many academics work to find which strategies and policies work the best at different levels of government. Countries such as Ireland are also making very good progress with the integration of the children’s rights-based perspective in all its government departments. But just as in many cases, what is on the ground can be a different story from what research suggests. There were, however, some points that kept coming up from the people we spoke to and in the research about the UNCRC. One such point was that children interacting with their rights and discussing them has been proven to lead to higher attainment levels. This is not surprising when you think about it, but simply many people don’t think about it at all. And now, if you hear any teacher or education officer use the excuse that they are too busy with attainment targets to look at a rights-based approach, then you know what to do.
Finally, we need to share the moment that I brought up earlier, but for me encapsulated the entire meaning and sense of our trip. It was afternoon in one of Aberdeen’s Level 2 Rights Respecting Schools that we visited (Riverbank Primary), and we were sitting with the class during a lesson. To provide some context, it was a lesson on water and why we need it, and the pupils were discussing this idea. The teacher asked if anyone in the group could remember which UNCRC Article gave us the right to clean water. There was some uncertainty at first, when one girl said: “Is it Article 24?” It is! After we left, all those on the trip asked each other if we had known the answer and not one of us knew. Just think at age six how strong a child with that knowledge will be in resisting any infringements on their rights, whatever that may be.
And more importantly, what could a whole generation of young people with that knowledge be capable of?
With that one moment, anyone who has claimed that ‘children can’t understand their rights’, or even ‘that young people aren’t interested’ were done, finished, over.
To become part of the Child Rights Tribe, please visit the Children’s Parliament site to become an Unfeartie – someone who listens to children, views children as capable and an asset to their communities, strives to ensure children’s voices are heard, challenges infringements of children’s human dignity, helps children learn the values of honesty, empathy, respect and social justice, promotes greater awareness + understanding of children’s rights, and speaks up about their Unfeartie role!