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“We want Scotland to become the world’s first child-friendly country”

Unicef is the world’s leading organisation working for children in danger. In our October members’ spotlight, Frances Bestley tells us about their work in Scotland and outlines the changes needed to ensure children are brought up knowing their rights

This year is especially exciting for us, celebrating 30 years since the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is essential to our work, was adopted by the UN General Assembly.

Unicef is mandated by the Assembly to uphold the Convention and to promote the rights and wellbeing of every child, everywhere, in everything we do.

In Scotland, we have much to be positive about. At Unicef, our Rights Respecting Schools Award has led a step-change in the way children experience their rights in school. As a result, Scotland now boasts the highest proportion globally of children and young people accessing a whole school rights-based education.

1,400 schools across Scotland are currently working towards accreditation. This number represents more than half of all schools in Scotland, and reaches over 350,000 children and young people every day.

What we hear from our Rights Respecting Schools is that when the views of children and young people are given due weight and consideration the relationships between students and the adults around them improve.

Strong nurturing relationships are vital in helping students make progress in their education. We see educational outcomes improve as children feel a greater sense of ownership and value of their learning, but we also see students’ compassion, self-acceptance and confidence grow. We see them become active and engaged citizens on a local level and on a global one too.   

Unicef UK has a vision for Scotland to become the world’s first child-friendly country – one in which all children and young people are brought up knowing their rights.

National milestones such as the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 and Getting it right for every child (GIRFEC), Scotland’s national approach to improving the wellbeing of children and young people, are crucial to achieving this.

For Unicef our challenge is to roll out the Rights Respecting Schools Award across 75% of Scottish schools in every local authority area by 2021, reaching 515,000 children. We’ll also be using our OutRight campaign, which encourages children and young people to speak out on children’s rights, acting as a vehicle to achieving our vision. 

This year the campaign looks back over what has been achieved for children since 1989 and explores the history of children’s rights, before asking children to look ahead and imagine the world for children in another 30 years’ time.

We also encourage young people to get involved in our broader Unicef campaign on vaccinations and ensuring the right to health for children both in the UK and around the world. You don’t have to be a Unicef Rights Respecting School to take part. All those working with young people  can get involved too.

Our ‘call for action’ for the child rights sector in Scotland is for all of us to work together and make sure the Scottish Government delivers on the repeated commitment by the First Minister to incorporate the principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law and “to do it in the most effective way possible”.  

The time has come to incorporate the CRC into domestic law. Unicef UK has recommended  that the Scottish Government adopts a direct and full incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law as we consider this to be the most effective model of incorporation to realise the commitments of the Scottish Government and enable the provisions of the UNCRC and the rights enshrined in it to become a reality for children in Scotland.

Direct incorporation means that the UNCRC itself forms part of national law, is binding on public agencies and can be applied by the courts. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child considers this a preferred model to give legal effect to the Convention. 

 We hope that Children in Scotland members will join us in this call for action and work with us to build a rights-respecting future for all.

 Frances Bestley  is Programme Director at Unicef UK

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Putting children’s rights at the heart of the school

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