Date: 16th June 2016
Category: Reporting to and monitoring the UNCRC

The UN Committee concludes that the UK and devolved nations need to do more to prioritise children's rights.

Last Thursday, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child published a report on the implementation of children's rights across the UK and devolved nations. The Committee raised a number of 'serious concerns', including the high levels of child poverty (para. 69a) and the lack of consideration given to children in spending decisions (para. 11) and also made a number of specific recommendations directly to the Scottish Government.

In total, over 150 recommendations were made that need to be taken forward by the Scottish and UK government as a matter of priority. Whilst it is clear that Scotland has made real progress in implementing the UNCRC since the Committee's last review in 2008, this latest report is clear that far more needs to be done to address the gaps in children's rights protections and fulfil our international obligation to children as enshrined in the UNCRC.

Very many of the recommendations made by the UN Committee were based on the evidence presented by Together and our members. Whilst the full recommendations are a 'must read' for all those with an interest in children's rights, this article will attempt to provide an overview:

  • UNCRC in law: Whilst progress has been made in Scotland to enshrine the UNCRC into Scots law through the Children & Young People (Scotland) Act, this does not mean that children have redress if their UNCRC rights are violated, nor that local or national government have a duty to act compatibly with the UNCRC. The Committee has therefore recommended that 'domestic legislation, at the national and devolved level' is brought in line with the UNCRC so it is 'directly applicable and justiciable' in domestic law (para. 7a).
  • Action plans: The Committee notes the Scottish Government's 2008 'Do the Right Thing' action plan (para. 8c). It goes on to recommend that such action plans should be underpinned by 'sufficient human, technical and financial resources' and include 'clear timelines as well as a monitoring and evaluation framework'. This is a key recommendation for the Scottish Government to consider in a future UNCRC action plan.
  • Impact Assessments: Scotland is leading the way with its Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment tool which is now used at a national level. Yet the Committee echoes Together's call for this to be embedded at a national and local level, calling for a 'statutory obligation at national and devolved levels to systematically conduct a child rights impact assessment when developing laws and policies affecting children'.
  • Participation: The Committee notes that 'in Scotland, voting age has been extended to 16 and 17 year olds for local and Scottish Parliament elections' (para. 31). Yet it also remains concerned that 'children's views are not systematically heard in policy-making on issues that affect them' (para. 29a). A recommendation is made to 'ensure that 'children are not only heard but also listened to and their views given due weight by all professionals working with children' (para. 30d).
  • Childcare: The Committee acknowledges good practices in providing childcare to those who need it. However, it still raises concerns about the high cost of childcare on children and their family environment (para. 49).
  • Play: Together's members have welcomed, and played an active role in taking forward, the Scottish Government's Play Strategy. The Committee notes that more could be done and raises concern about 'under-funding' of the strategy (para 73a).
  • Children with disabilities: The rights of children with disabilities were raised as a matter of concern, in that many 'do not see that their views are given due weight in making personal decisions in their life, including choice of support and future' (para. 55a) and that support for transition to adulthood 'is often neither sufficient, timely nor well-coordinated, and does not ensure fully-informed decision by children with disabilities' (para. 55c).
  • Mental health: The mental health of children was also prominent in the Committee recommendations, as they raised concern that 'the number of children with mental health needs is increasing [...], including those related to alcohol, drug and substance abuse' (para 59a) and that the 'new shortened waiting period targets established [..] in Scotland may not be realized in practice due to a lack of infrastructure (number of specialists and clinics/centres)' (para. 59d).
  • And more: Other concerns raised by the Committee include the educational attainment gap (71a), the use of restraint (para. 39), the prevalence of bullying (including online bullying) (para. 48), the difficulties faced by looked after children in maintaining contact with their siblings (para. 52c), the need for the best interests of children to be taken into account when sentencing parents (54b), and the fact that the minimum age for recruitment to the armed forces remains at 16 years-old, and that child recruits make up 20% of the recent annual intake of UK's Regular Armed Forces.

The Committee also raises concern in a number of areas where Scotland has stubbornly failed to make progress in relation to its 2008 recommendations. For example:

  • Equal protection: Children still do not have equal protection from violence. The Committee recommend that governments should 'as a matter of priority' repeal legal defences (para. 40a) such as justifiable assault in Scotland.
  • Age of criminal responsibility: The Committee raises concern that 'the minimum age of criminal responsibility remains 8 years of age in Scotland' (para. 77a). Together has welcomed the Scottish Government's recent consultation on raising the minimum age to 12 years-old and urges this recommendation to be taken forward as a matter of priority.
  • Gypsy/Traveller children: Gypsy/Travellers children continue to face discrimination in relation to many areas of their lives and concerns are raised that 'in Scotland, adequate and culturally sensitive accommodation for Roma, Gypsy and Traveller children remains insufficient' (para. 69e);
  • Mosquito devices: Progress has still not been made to ban the use of mosquito devices in Scotland, and the Committee calls for government to 'prohibit their use in public spaces'. (para. 36a)
  • Age discrimination: As highlighted by Together's report to the Committee, a number of provisions under the Equality Act (2010) still 'exempt children from protection against age discrimination' (para. 20a).

The Committee has also set out a number of new, wide-ranging challenges for the government to address, such as ensuring counter-terrorism measures 'do not have a discriminatory or stigmatising impact on any group of children' (para. 21b), ensuring that businesses take account of children's rights (para. 18a) and addressing concerns around the impact that high levels of air pollution have on children's health (para. 67).

Over the summer, Together will be working closely with our members to research and draft our 2016 State of Children's Rights report (to be launched in November). The report will assess where Scotland currently stands in relation to all the recommendations made by the UN Committee, and suggest actions for the Scottish and UK Government to take forward. As a result, we hope our State of Children's Rights report will form the basis for a robust action plan from the Scottish Government. By using the UN's recommendations as a roadmap, Together commits to work with government, children and young people and wider civil society to ensure that children and young people are the priority for Scotland, and that they are at the heart of every decision we make.