Incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scottish domestic law.
The National Parent Forum of Scotland (NPFS) welcomes the opportunity to provide the Scottish Government with evidence for their consultation on incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into our domestic law in Scotland.
The NPFS is a parent led, volunteer organisation. We work in partnership with national and local government, and other organisations involved in education and child wellbeing issues, to ensure that parents play a full and equal role. When parents are involved in their children’s learning, it benefits children, families and schools: children do better. We believe it is vital the parental voice is heard in these discussions as parents are the strongest advocate of their child’s rights and the UNCRC refers to parents, carers and families, not a child in isolation.
To inform this response we commissioned a YouGov Plc online survey. The total sample size was 2,037 Scottish adults, of which 437 were parents of children aged 3 – 18. Fieldwork was undertaken between 8th – 16th August 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).
Clear communication is key for raising awareness and informing parents. It is important to acknowledge that this is a complicated concept for many parents to understand; there is a general lack of awareness and understanding.
Theme 1: Legal mechanisms for incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law
In terms of the options for incorporation, the NPFS view is that of the independent legal advisory group that direct incorporation is preferable. We have concerns that the nuances regarding the rights of the family are so intertwined in the UNCRC that they could be lost if a new suite of Rights was to be created. That said, we appreciate the concerns regarding devolved and reserved powers. If it becomes apparent that direct incorporation is legally impossible, then we would urge that the General Comments remain applicable to a new set of Rights.
We understand that incorporation by transition or creating a new set of rights would be a much slower process and that there is an agreeable impetus to fulfil this work while it has cross party support. However, as frequently occurs, there is a tension that this speed of delivery does not allow for effective communications and good consultation with children and their families.
Theme 2: Embedding Children’s Rights in public services
The creation of a Children’s Rights Scheme, as recommended by the UNCRC, would be a welcome model for Scotland and would support an example similar to the Welsh one. However, this is also an opportunity to go further. We suggest:
- adding access to advocacy and mediation as standard
- monetary barriers being removed for redress in the courts (i.e. legal aid reform)
- impact assessments conducted routinely; and,
- scrutiny by the Commissioner.
Monitoring and evaluating how public bodies are protecting these rights is crucial.
We would like to see well-defined examples of how they will consult with children and families to do this. This type of consultation requires meaningful resourcing.
Of particular importance to us, is the need for a large-scale awareness raising campaign among families. Our YouGov poll showed only just over half of parents (52%) had heard of the UNCRC and, of those, there was varying knowledge of the rights themselves. For example, 84% knew of the Right to education, 65% of the Right to play, but only 40% of the Right to leisure and to participate in cultural life and the arts and 31% of the Right to social security.
NPFS is very concerned that our National press may report on perceived negative angles as the Bill goes through parliament, and that this will be the first many parents hear or learn about the UNCRC. People can feel threatened by Children’s Rights when they are not educated on the positive impact for parents and families. Awareness raising needs to begin now.
Encouragingly, 90% of parents thought that their children were learning about rights in school, but it is vital that parents understand those rights too. 60% of parents thought that that incorporation of the UNCRC into Scottish law would support them in parenting their children, but this can only happen if awareness and understanding is raised.
Theme 3: Enabling compatibility and redress
To ensure compatibility and redress, NPFS supports the view that Children’s Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessments should be a statutory requirement, allowing Parliament to scrutinise compliance effectively.
In our YouGov poll, 72% of parents think Scottish Government is responsible for helping families to raise their children in a happy and healthy environment; 76% think the same responsibility lies with Local Authorities. Therefore, we believe that there must be access to the courts to add accountability to this responsibility so that the UNCRC will be upheld.
We urge against using a model like the Human Rights Act, which means only the ‘victims’ can seek redress. It is very important that parents can represent their child in the case of the UNCRC. Additionally, there should be clear guidance and advice on how people can make a representation and a wealth of lower level redress, such as advocacy and mediation available. We should not rely on families’ individual efforts to ensure rights are met; Scottish Government must hold local authorities to account.
Lastly, we take into account the view that Children’s Right’s legislation should take precedence over other legislation as a constitutional protection. However, we urge caution that only 10% of parents surveyed in a recent YouGov poll believed this should be the case. Therefore, the general public require significant education on the benefits of such a proposal for our children and young people.