How can we improve human rights for children in Scotland

Our Chair, Judith Robertson, has written a piece for the Sunday Mail today about the implementation of of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

Scotland has a strong track record on human rights – there is much to be proud of.

But the stubborn gap between the life chances of children born into poverty, relative to others, is one stark example of where the state is failing to realise human rights in practice.

By the time a child born into poverty starts school, they will already be over a year behind children from better off backgrounds. That gap widens as they get older, reducing their job prospects, putting them at greater risk of poor physical and mental health and, ultimately, reducing their life expectancy to more than a decade less than their more affluent peers.

These are all human rights issues. They must be treated as such by those in power.

Every child has the right to education, to an adequate standard of living, to adequate housing and to health – among others. These rights are established in a range of human rights treaties that bind Scotland’s Government, Parliament and public bodies under international law.

As Scotland’s national human rights institution, the Scottish Human Rights Commission has a duty to promote and protect these rights for everyone in Scotland.

One way we do this is by reporting regularly to the United Nations on Scotland’s progress. This week, we submitted our latest report on Scotland’s implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). Last month, we lodged a similar report on the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).

Particular issues highlighted in these reports include the poor educational outcomes for children looked after by the state; barriers to education faced by young Gypsy/Travellers; bullying and other barriers experienced by ethnic minority children; the lack of education provision for children in custody; and the poor quality and provision of mental health services for children and adolescents.

We also drew attention to the adverse and disproportionate impact on children of austerity measures and changes to the social security system, which are driving more families into poverty.

So how can we improve human rights for Scotland’s children?

Nicola Sturgeon has put education at the top of her Government’s priority list for the coming years. The Commission would like to see this approach grounded firmly in human rights.

Scotland is already signed up to the international human rights framework – the set of treaties and monitoring mechanisms governed by the United Nations. This provides a ready-made road-map for better delivering the right to education. One of the main benefits of using international human rights as a benchmark and guide to education and other social policies is that Scotland can learn systematically from experiences in other countries and then apply that to our own policy efforts. We are part of an international community and we should draw on that wherever possible.

The Commission would also like to see the Scottish Government and Parliament take bolder action to incorporate all international human rights treaties directly into Scotland’s own laws. This would mean that rights like the right to education would become part of our law, giving them more teeth and forcing government to be more accountable for realising them in practice.

We have a long way to go before we can say that every child in Scotland enjoys their rights equally. The Commission will be sharpening its focus on ensuring our Governments and public authorities meet their obligations to achieve this.

Judith Robertson


Scottish Human Rights Commission