Children and young people have the right to be treated fairly and equally. They must not be discriminated against on the basis of their race, religion, sexuality, gender identity, disability or any other reason.
“Children talk with Children’s Parliament about being left out, about not having friends, about their family being picked on or harassed, and this tells us that as a country we have some way to go to make inclusion and opportunities for all a reality. A commitment to early intervention and prevention of inequality and discrimination means starting with inclusive values-based learning in childhood.”
‘What Kind of Scotland?’ (Children’s Parliament, Page 34)
“A constituent at my school told me of her friend who experienced hate due to the fact she chose to wear the hijab and her beliefs. She had been attacked on a trip out with her friends and ridiculed by her attackers. She had her hijab pulled off and spat at. Even though she wasn’t permanently physically hurt, it has left her scared to go outside and socialise for the foreseeable future. These attacks can leave long standing scars and can negatively impact on young people’s mental health. Islamophobia therefore breaches young people’s rights to play, health and even education. In Scotland’s multi-cultural society in 2018, it must come to an end.”
(Fatima Bari MSYP, SYP Rights Review, April 2018)
The 2018 Pupil Census found that 10% (68,207) of children attending Scottish schools identify as belonging to a minority community. As highlighted in our previous blog, children and young people who belong to minority groups are more likely to experience bullying. The effects of this can be significant and varied, impacting on the enjoyment of rights relating to mental health, freedom from violence, non-discrimination and education amongst others.
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits schools from discriminating against children based on grounds including race, ethnicity and religion. However, it does not protect pupils from discrimination by other pupils. A 2015 study found that two in five secondary pupils in Scotland have experienced prejudice-based bullying, while teachers report that race-related bullying is the “number one type of prejudice-based bullying.” Research by the Coalition for Racial Equality Rights (CRER) has highlighted inconsistent policies, reporting processes and recording of racially motivated incidents across Scottish schools. As a result, exact details of the number of children affected is not entirely clear, making it difficult to monitor progress.
In 2016, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concern over discrimination experienced by children from minority groups and called for awareness raising and ‘other preventative activities’ to be strengthened.
Recent moves have been made to try and improve the situation. In 2017, an inquiry into bullying in schools was led by the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee. The inquiry report recommended a focus on prevention, and called for improved data collection and monitoring of bullying incidents to assist with creating effective policies. The Committee’s findings helped inform Scottish Government’s refreshed national approach to anti-bullying in Scotland – Respect for All – which contains an explicit commitment to addressing all types of bullying, including prejudice-based bullying. Despite calls from some organisations to introduce mandatory reporting of prejudice-based bullying, this was not included in Respect for All (see for example calls from the Equalities and Human Rights Commission in 2016 and 2018). Supplementary guidance around improving consistency in recording and monitoring was published in 2018.
Incorporation would help strengthen the above policy developments by ensuring a rights-based approach is taken to decision-making. The UNCRC is clear that children and young people have a right to be heard in the decisions affecting them. Incorporating the UNCRC would help create the space, structure and appropriate supports to ensure that children and young people can play a leading role in tackling prejudice-based bullying and in promoting a positive culture of ‘substantive equality’. Incorporation would encourage rights-based education in schools – an important means of addressing the root causes of prejudice and preventing bullying incidents from occurring. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has recognised rights-based education as a method to tackle prejudice-based bullying.