Photograph from Sciennes Primary School Mural on Children's Rights

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is an international human rights treaty which sets out the rights every child has. The UK ratified the UNCRC in 1991 but it has not yet been made part of domestic law. This means that many of the protections contained within it are not accessible to children and young people across the UK.

Scotland is in a unique position to make children's rights part of its laws. This process is called incorporation.

In March 2021, after over 10 years of campaigning by children, young people and wider civil society, the Scottish Parliament passed a bill that will make children's rights part of the law in Scotland. 

UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

The UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 1st September 2020 and was passed unanimously on 16th March 2021. The main purpose of the Bill is bring the UNCRC into Scots law.

The First Minister said the Bill would incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law "fully and directly", to the maximum extent of the Scottish Parliament's powers and be passed before the end of the current parliamentary term.

The Bill says that:

  • Public authorities must not act in a way that’s incompatible with the UNCRC requirements. 
  • Courts will have powers to decide if legislation is compatible with the UNCRC requirements.
  • Scottish Government can change laws to make sure they are compatible with the UNCRC requirements
  • The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and Scottish Human Rights Commission will have powers to take legal action to protect children's rights.
  • Scottish Government must publish a Children’s Rights Scheme to show how it is meeting UNCRC requirements and explain their future plans to progress children’s rights.
  • Scottish Government must review how the Children's Rights Scheme is working each year.
  • Other authorities listed in the Bill must report every three years on what they are doing to meet the UNCRC requirements.

Read more about the Bill's journey through parliament below.

  • Stage 1

    The UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill was introduced to the Scottish Parliament on 1st September 2020. 

    The Equalities and Human Rights Committee examined the Bill and took evidence from a wide range of stakeholders. This included written and oral evidence from Together. 

    Members of the Committee also spoke with children and young people to get their views on the Bill. This included engagement sessions facilitated by Together and supported by our member organisations:

    • Read the report from the engagement session with children aged under 12
    • Read the report from the session for 12-18-year-olds. 

    The Committee published its Stage 1 report and a child-friendly version of the report on 20 December 2020. This welcomed the Bill and set out recommendations on how it could be further strengthened. The Scottish Government issued its response on 15th January 2021.

    Together prepared a briefing for MSPs in advance of the Stage 1 debate.

    The Bill was passed unanimously on 19th January 2021 and proceeded to Stage 2. 

  • Stage 2

    The Bill passed Stage 2 on 11th February 2021.

    A series of amendments were made which will further strengthen the Bill. Many of these reflected amendments supported by Together and over 40 members and academics in a briefing for MSPs.

    • Read our summary of the amendments here.
    • Access the Bill as amended at Stage 2 here. 
  • Stage 3

    The Stage 3 debate took place on Tuesday 16th March 2021. MSPs debated further amendments and held a final vote on whether to pass the Bill. 

    In advance of the debate, Together prepared a briefing for MSPs encouraging them to support final amendments and pass the Bill. The briefing was supported by over 50 member organisations and supporters. 

    The Bill was passed unanimously. The new law is due to come into force 6 months after Royal Assent. 

How did we get here?

The Bill is a milestone on Scotland’s journey towards making rights real for every child. It marks the culmination of over 10 years of campaigning by children, young people and wider civil society, and represents the increasing support for children’s rights across the Scottish Parliament, Scottish Government and public services. You can read about these efforts in our blog.

The Bill follows a decade of developments that have been furthering children’s rights across legislation, policy and practice in Scotland – including GIRFEC, the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014, Scottish Government's 2018-21 Action Plan, and most recently the Children (Scotland) Act 2020. It follows a Scottish Government consultation in May 2019 to seek views on the best way to incorporate the UNCRC.

  • Read the consultation here.
  • Read the analysis of responses here.

Together and its members have played a key role in the journey towards incorporating the UNCRC into Scots law, so when the Bill was introduced, Together's members wrote a letter to every MSP to celebrate and support this announcement.

Discover below more information on the efforts taken by Together and its members, which include co-convening the Incorporation Advisory Group that published a draft Children’s Rights (Scotland) Bill in 2018.

  • Incorporation Advisory Group

    Together (Scottish Alliance for Children's Rights) has worked alongside the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland to convene a short-term Advisory Group which explored what a Bill to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law would look like. The Advisory Group is independent from the Scottish Government and comprises of a range of world-leading legal experts on children’s rights and incorporation. Experts drew from their wide experience of incorporation across the world to set out a 'gold standard' example of incorporation for Scotland that would meet all the standards put forward by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. This is the draft Children's Rights (Scotland) Bill. 

  • A draft Children's Rights (Scotland) Bill 

    The Advisory Group created the draft Children’s Rights (Scotland) Bill to show how the UNCRC could be incorporated into Scots law.

    On Universal Children’s Day, 20th November 2018, the Advisory Group presented the draft Children's Rights (Scotland) Bill to the Deputy First Minister and Minister for Children and Young People. 

    The Children’s Rights (Scotland) Bill was specifically drafted to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law. It was written in a way to ensured a proactive culture of children’s rights across local and national government and if their children’s rights were breached, they were provided with redress. Committed to working collaboratively to secure rights protections for children in Scotland as set out in international law, the Advisory Group urged the Scottish Government to draw from this draft Bill to inform wider public consultation in early 2019. 

What are people saying about incorporation?

We asked children and young people what they thought about their rights being protected in law. Watch the video to hear what they had to say.

Thank you so much to the children and young people from Sciennes Primary School and the Children and Young People's Panel on Europe who submitted their videos, quotes and pictures!

A message to you all!

Incorporating the UNCRC into Scottish law is so small feat, which is why a number of key children's rights advocates have filmed messages to you all. 

Watch these videos below!

The Deputy First Minister John Swinney and Minister for Children and Young People Maree Todd also wrote a letter to children, young people and to those who have campaigned for children’s rights over the past decade. You can read this letter here.

Incorporation blogs

Academics, practitioners and children’s organisations have produced a series of blogs which answer questions related to incorporation and the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill.

  • UNCRC Incorporation Bill

    Hear from SallyAnn Kelly, Aberlour's CEO on how the passage of the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill has been a rare but joyous example of hope and optimism to lift us all in challenging times.

    Read the blog here. 

  • Youth work is human rights work

    YouthLink’s Kevin Kane explains why strengthening the statutory basis of youth work is critical to ensure effective implementation of the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) (Bill), as youth work can help children and young people to understand, promote and defend their rights.

    • Read the blog in full here.
  • Scotland’s promise to protect children’s human rights in law!

    This child-friendly blog talks about the plan to make children’s human rights part of Scots law. The author, Aidan Flegg is a PhD researcher working on a collaborative project with Glasgow University, Stirling University and the Scottish Human Rights Commission.

    • Read the blog in full here. 
  • Scotland’s UNCRC Bill: A Work in Progress

    Aidan Flegg is a PhD researcher working on a collaborative project with Glasgow University, Stirling University and the Scottish Human Rights Commission. He has background in international human rights law and previous to the PhD worked in policy for the Law Society of England and Wales. 

    Aidan's blog sets forth the importance of using the human rights framework as a whole for interpreting the UNCRC. Aiden explains that using the framework holistically is the only way obligations associated with children’s rights realisation can be truly understood.

    Read the blog here. 

  • Signed away? Privatisation and human rights

    This blog addresses the question: Why should the realisation of human rights depend on the public or private status of a service provider?

    The blog explores the intention behind the Human Rights Act and why the nature of contracted-out services is important. 

    Read the blog written by Eleanor Deeming, legal officer with the Scottish Human Rights Commission here.

  • Does legal incorporation matter?

    As Scotland moves to incorporate the UNCRC into law, Professor Ursula Kilkelly and Professor Laura Lundy have blogged about why this is important and what it will mean to children and young people.

    The blog highlights how Scotland can draw from the experience of other countries that have already incorporated the UNCRC into law - including Norway, Finland, Iceland and Sweden. It also explores how incorporation builds the momentum needed for a culture change in which children’s rights are truly recognised and fully realised.

    Read the blog article here.

  • Incorporation of UNCRC - Get it right for children, get it right for us all
  • UNCRC incorporation can empower youth workers as human rights defenders

    YouthLink Scotland's Policy and Research Manager Kevin Kane explores the future possibility of a statutory right to youth work in light of incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law. 

    Read the blog article here. 

  • Scottish Government introduces the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

    Aberlour's Chief Executive SallyAnne Kelly writes about what the Bill may mean for the rights of all of Scotland’s children and young people.

    It also touches on how the introduction of the Bill to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law is a momentous achievement, brought about by the efforts of children and young people, campaigners, children’s organisations, charities and children’s advocates.

    Read the blog article here.

  • A children’s social worker reflects on UNCRC Incorporation

    Rebecca Laing, a children's services social worker with Angus Council has written a blog for the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland. In it, she writes that incorporation will bring changes for the children she works with and sets out why these changes matter. 

    She says incorporation sets "a new baseline for how all adults in Scotland must respect and promote rights".

    Read the blog article here.

  • What The Children’s Rights Convention Could Mean For Scotland

    Journalist, Nadine Batchelor-Hunt writing for Each Other discusses what incorporation would mean for children in Scotland and what would happen in other parts of the UK. 

    Read the blog article here. 

  • 25 and Up: The ‘old normal’ meant acceptance of injustice for too many families. We can’t go back to it

    Clare Simpson from Parenting Across Scotland writes about UNCRC incorporation and the work of the Care Review offering the scaffolding for change Scottish families.

    Read the blog article here.

     

  • Scotland poised to deliver maximal protection of children’s rights

    Dr Kasey McCall-Smith, who serves on the Expert Advisory Group on UNCRC incorporation highlights some of the key features of the Bill that will push for a better future for the children of Scotland.

    Read the blog article here. 

  • UNCRC incorporation and learning/intellectual disabilities

    In a blog post, the Chief Executive Officers of SCLD and PAMIS discuss the importance of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill for children and young people with learning/intellectual disabilities.

    Read the blog here.

    You can also find SCLD’s full response to the Bill here.