Participation in Decision-Making

Together members: UNICEF Scotland and PB Scotland

UNCRC Article 12 (right to be heard)

Every child has the right to express their views, feelings and wishes in all matters affecting them, and to have their views considered and taken seriously.


“Article 12 of the UNCRC guarantees young people the right to be consulted in all matters affecting them. While we’ve seen and we appreciate the efforts towards this during the Year of Young People, we’ve yet to see if our views will be meaningfully listened to and will actually influence policy.”

Jack Dudgeon MSYP (SYP Rights Review, April 2018)


“I came to vote because I want my voice to be heard and I think it’s important that the community get to decide and not just the Council. I voted for things that are important to me, less loneliness and homelessness.”

(Sylvie, an 8-year-old voter at the ‘Leith Decides’ participatory budgeting event)


Without a voice, children and young people cannot claim their rights. They cannot influence the decisions that affect them, demand the support they are entitled to, or hold duty-bearers to account. At the same time, decision-makers cannot fully understand the barriers to fulfilling children and young people’s rights if they have not heard from them.

Every child in Scotland has some experience of using local services, from visiting a local library to receiving more specialist support. Under Article 12, they have the right to contribute to shaping these services. In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concerns that “children’s views are not systematically heard in policymaking on issues that affect them” and recommended the establishment of “structures for the active and meaningful participation of children” in the design of laws, policies and services across the UK.

Children and young people have an important role to play in decision-making, and local authorities have a duty to ensure their participation under the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and GIRFEC. One example of how this can be achieved, is through participatory budgeting, which is based on the principle that better decisions result from involving those who will be affected by them. As a tool or approach, participatory budgeting is a way through which the Scottish Government, local authorities and public bodies can uphold children and young people’s rights under Article 12. It is also an important and cost-effective method of future-proofing decisions, by helping to prevent rights violations from the outset.


“Being involved in a participatory budgeting programme gives us the opportunity to make the community better, but most importantly it provides us with opportunities that we would otherwise not have

(Darren, ‘YoMo’ Youthbank volunteer)


Recent moves have been made to increase the use of participatory budgeting across Scotland. Since 2014, Scottish Government has invested around £5 million in expanding participatory budgeting. Following a commitment in the 2017 Programme for Government, local authorities agreed that at least one percent of their budgets would be decided through participatory budgeting by the end of 2021, around £100 million.

Many participatory budget initiatives have been aimed at children and young people, in particular throughout the Year of Young People 2018 (YOYP). However, such initiatives only covered a small amount of decisions being made that affect the lives of children and young people. As part of the legacy of YOYP, children and young people are calling for such participatory budgeting processes to continue. These processes should be co-designed, meaningful and not tokenistic.

Other developments include the UNICEF UK Child Friendly Cities & Communities initiative, which works with local authorities to ensure that children feel safe, nurtured and heard in the cities and communities in which they live. Aberdeen is the first city in Scotland to take part in the programme, and the local authority has spent the last year engaged in child rights-training, identifying existing good practice on children’s rights, and identifying where gaps and challenges need to be addressed. A local Children and Young People’s Advisory Board will hold the Council to account and form part of the expert panel that makes the final decision on whether the city is to be recognised as child-friendly.

Evidence from Norway shows that incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law leads to greater recognition that participation is required at all levels of decision-making. Accordingly, incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law would strengthen the above developments, helping to ensure more consistent recognition of children and young people’s right to be heard and involved in the decisions that affect them, and helping to ensure that such processes are child friendly, meaningful and effective.

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