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Child rights or public health? There's no choice

Children in Scotland CEO Jackie Brock on child rights response to COVID-19 and why we need now more than ever to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into domestic law. 

We are almost four months into the COVID-19 lockdown now, and what an extraordinary and at times overwhelming experience it has been. We have spent many hours, days and weeks looking at the impact the pandemic and its associated lockdown is having on the lives of children and young people. The changes that have taken place to education, relationships and services its quite phenomenal.  

I’m very grateful to our members, particularly those who sit on our Children’s Sector Strategic Forum for their insights, evidence and recommendations about how we should collectively respond and support families through these really difficult times 

We’ve been able to use the Forum’s learning and established position to influence the thinking of Scottish Government, CoSLA and other national bodies (to the best of our ability)represent the Forum on the national Collective Leadership Group, which was convened specifically to agree how children and family services need to be restructured and focused through the pandemic.  

What is clear to me is that the rights of children and young people need to be absolutely central to these decisions. ThScottish Government’s Children and Families Directorate has responsibility for supporting the introduction of the Bill to Incorporate the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child into domestic law, which is due to be introduced to parliament after the summer recess. The team there know the importance of listening to the views of children and young people and shaping their responses to ensure their rights are upheld.  

Nevertheless, with the many competing pressures experienced by everyone across Scottish Government at the moment, it is a constant necessity to remind the Collective Leadership Group members to focus their responses on what children, young people and families are saying they need to navigate these tumultuous times safely and well.  

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland has just this week published an Independent Children’s Rights Impact Assessmentwhich analyses the extent to which the Scottish Government’s response to the pandemic supports or undermines the rights of children. While some good practice has been found, there are too many examples of where the impact on children’s rights has been an afterthought 

This really does confirm the importance of incorporation, to ensure we have a legal framework that enshrines child rights as a responsibility of all public bodies. Because, even with the best of intentions, they can get overlooked at times of stress, or be viewed as of lower priority than other concerns. It shouldn’t be an either / or of course – its not child rights or public health. It’s both. This is how we need to think about decisions during these times.  

I along with other members of the Strategic Forum will continue to remind the Collective Leadership Group of this. And we, with the excellent leadership provided by Together, CYPCS, and the wider children’s sector, will support the passage of the Incorporation Bill through parliament wherever we can. By doing this we hope that in time, considering the impact of big decisions on the rights of children will become second nature to us all.

The Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland worked with the Observatory of Children’s Human Rights Scotland to publish the Independent Children’s Rights Impact Assessment on the Response to Covid-19 in Scotland.
Click here to read the full report

About the author

Jackie Brock is Chief Executive of Children in Scotland

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