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An exciting time to be working on children's rights

As Children in Scotland celebrates its 30th anniversary, Gina Wilson, Head of Strategy at the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland discusses three decades of work to embed children's rights

This year, we’re celebrating Children in Scotland’s 30th anniversary.

During that time, the charity has brought children, young people, organisations, and adults working with children into an important network of human rights defenders.

Children in Scotland stood alongside children and young people to demand an independent children’s commissioner to promote and protect children’s rights, which led to our office being established, and now, thanks to a collective effort, Scotland is on the brink of incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into law.

One of the biggest changes in children’s rights in this time has been a culture shift in awareness of children’s right to participate – listening to children, asking them about and taking account of their views, ideas, and experiences. Our office has put participation at the heart of everything we do to make sure children’s views are included and heard at all levels of decision-making.

This year, our Young Advisors even used the office’s powers of investigation to examine the provision of counselling services in secondary schools, believed to be the first time young people anywhere in the world have used a children’s commissioner’s legal powers to lead an investigation.

The group of Mental Health Investigators – aged between 14 and 17 and from all over Scotland – worked with our team to plan the investigation, decide what evidence was needed from local authorities, access and evaluate that evidence, and make recommendations. They handed it to MSPs and are pressing those in power to deliver the change they are calling for, including counselling being available outwith school hours and away from school buildings; and counselling being available to children in primary and special schools.

This incredible group of young people feels empowered to stand up for their rights and that reflects another cultural change: the recognition of child human rights defenders.

We see and recognise incredible child human rights defenders working across our communities. Groups like Children in Scotland’s Changing our World and our Young Advisors and many others in Scotland are demanding radical reforms on big issues like mental health, climate justice, poverty, and discrimination, but also fighting for the smaller changes that make a big difference.

And children don’t just learn about their rights in school – last year we launched our Rights Challenge Badge with Scouts Scotland. Now Scouts, Cubs, Beavers, and Squirrels can complete the badge, increasing their knowledge of rights and ultimately feeling empowered to stand up for their own rights, and those of others, where they are not being respected.

We will soon be engaging with children and young people all over Scotland to inform our new Strategic Plan. Their participation – and that of adults who can support them – will be key to setting our goals for the next four years.

The culture around children’s rights has certainly changed over the past three decades since Children in Scotland has been in existence. But the journey is not over yet. This change will be greatly boosted when the UNCRC is finally incorporated into Scots law – it’s an exciting time for those working in children’s rights but the real winners will be children and young people themselves. Having their rights in law makes those rights real, leading to better decision-making and more effective use of resources. It will improve the way children’s rights are upheld.

Here’s to the next 30 years of change.

Gina Wilson is Head of Strategy at the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland

About the author

Gina Wilson is Head of Strategy at the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland

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