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.

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 Bill is a milestone on Scotland’s journey towards making rights real for every child. It 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.

Campaigning by children, young people and wider civil society has led to where Scotland is today! 

Scotland's journey to incorporation

  • Showing how to incorporate the UNCRC

    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. The Advisory Group worked independently from the Scottish Government. Made up 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. 

    The Children's Rights (Scotland) Bill was presented to the Deputy First Minister and Minister for Children and Young People on Universal Children’s Day on 20th November 2018.

    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. 

  • Setting out plans to incorporate the UNCRC

    In 2019, Scottish Government said that its plan was to incorporate the UNCRC before early 2021

  • First Minister's annoucement

    When announcing the Programme for Government for 2020-21, the First Minister said Scottish Government will 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.

  • Stage 1 of the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

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

    When the Bill was introduced, Together's members wrote a letter to every MSP to celebrate and support this announcement!

    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 of the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

    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 of the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill

    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. 

  • Supreme Court challenge

    Shortly after the Bill was passed, the UK Government raised concerns that parts of the Bill exceeded the powers of the Scottish Parliament. It sent the case to the UK Supreme Court which held a hearing on in June 2021.

    The court gave its judgement in October 2021 and found that four sections of the Bill went beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

    The Scottish Government is clear that most of the work to implement the UNCRC can and should continue while these technical issues around the Bill are resolved. 

  • Martin Whitfield's motion

    MSP Martin Whitfield launched a Parliamentary motion in March 2022. The motion called on Scottish Government to share what timescale it is working to for the Bill to be brought within Scottish Parliament’s competence. This motion received cross-party support. 

  • Amending the Bill

    In May 2022, the Deputy First Minister made a statement on next steps, including plans to amend the Bill, a reconsideration stage in the Scottish Parliament and further consultation with children, young people and stakeholders. 

    Together worked with our members to hear their thoughts on the proposed amendments.

What are people saying about incorporation?

Hear from children's rights advocates as they share their thoughts on the UNCRC being incorporated into Scots law!

Incorporation blogs

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

  • What remains following the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill reference judgment?

    Dr McCall-Smith is a lecturer in Public International Law and Programme Director for the LLM in Human Rights. In this blog Dr McCall-Smith examines what remains following the UK Government's challenge against four elements of the UNCRC Bill. 

    Read this blog here. 

  • Supreme Court Judgment: here’s what you need to know

    On 6th October, the UK Supreme Court gave its judgment on the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. The judges unanimously decided that four sections of the Bill go beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament. This blog explains the background to the case, what the judges said and what could happen next.

    Read this blog here. 

  • UK Supreme Court considers Children's Rights Bill: Part 2

    This blog gives an overview of developments from Day 2 of the UK Supreme Court hearing on the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. Judges heard arguments from the Scottish, Welsh and UK governments. The judges will now reflect on what they have heard before publishing their decision.

    • Read the full blog here.
  • UK Supreme Court considers Scottish Children’s Rights Bill: Part 1

    This blog gives an overview of developments from Day 1 of the UK Supreme Court hearing on the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. Judges heard submissions for the Attorney General and Advocate General – legal advisors to the UK Government.

    • Read the full blog here.
  • Children’s Rights Bill reaches UK Supreme Court: Here’s what you need to know

    On 28-29th June, the UK Supreme Court considered whether certain provisions of the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill exceeded the powers of the Scottish Parliament.

    • Read the full blog here.
  • 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.