Together member: Children 1st
UNCRC Article 19 (protection from violence)
Governments must do all they can to ensure that children are protected from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and bad treatment by their parents or anyone else who looks after them.
“A change in our culture is necessary if we seek to end violence inflicted onto children by their parents or guardians. We must ensure that children know to speak out about abuse and remove the stigma around this.”
Josh Kennedy MSYP (SYP Rights Review, April 2018)
“Hitting me makes me feel bad in my heart. It’s upsetting and teaches you to hit your own children.”
(Anonymous primary school child)
“From the age of one and a half she experienced 12 years of physical, mental, emotional abuse. Her father used to starve her, only letting her eat one biscuit a day. So, she suffers from acute anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder – if I accidentally say something her father used to say her anxiety levels go through the roof”
(Parent whose daughter is supported by Children 1st)
A safe and healthy home is essential to ensure children and young people’s right to survival, life and development (UNCRC Article 6). Abuse can have lasting negative impacts on children and young people even long after it has stopped. Official statistics on the exact prevalence of parental violence against children do not exist. NSPCC estimates that around 500,000 children experience abuse from a parent or guardian every year in the UK. In Scotland, based on referrals to the Child Protection Register in 2015, over 2,700 children were identified as needing protection from abuse. As such, preventative measures are key to reducing violence against children.
Children and young people from the Everyday Heroes project have identified the need to:
“Reassure all children and young people that they have a right not to be abused, it’s OK to report and they will be believed, listened to, supported and kept informed. Justice professionals need to ensure young survivors comfort, views, rights and choices are central at every stage. The justice journey needs to be quicker, safer and less traumatic; consistent support/advocacy at all stages would help with this.”
In its Equally Safe action plan, the Scottish Government has recognised that:
“As duty bearers we have a responsibility to make sure that the rights of all children are protected, including their right to have a say in all matters affecting them, and to create an environment that is safe for children and young people to grow up. Children have the right to be kept safe from harm, protected from violence and to be given proper care by those looking after them.”
A step towards protecting all children and young people from violence is the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill which is currently progressing through the Scottish Parliament. This will remove the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ of children. UN human rights bodies, including the UN Committee, have repeatedly called on all parts of the UK to make this legislative change, so that children have the same protection in law from physical assault as adults. The UK, including Scotland, is currently one of only five European countries to not yet have given children equal protection from assault.
It is one thing to change the law to protect children against all forms of parental violence. Children’s rights will only be fully realised if legal change is accompanied by the provision of appropriate services to allow children and young people to speak out against violence and to receive the support they need to help them recover from their experiences, as set out in Article 39.
Children and families who work with Children 1st are clear that they want to be able to access support from people they trust, that recognises what’s happened to them rather than what’s ‘wrong’ with them. Amending Scots law to remove the justifiable assault defence is an important step towards realising children’s rights to be free from violence. Incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law will be a catalyst for greater progress.