Monday, 31 March 2014

Making children's rights real

Today, marks the launch of ‘Social Justice, The Common Weal and Children and Young People in Scotland, with the Jimmy Reid Foundation. Authors John Davis, Louise Hill, Kay Tisdall , Liam Cairns and Selwyn McCausland consider how to make Scotland the best place to grow up in.

The themes of the paper arose out of our consideration of the recent legislation passed through the Scottish Parliament – The Children and Young People(Scotland) Act 2014. The rhetoric around the Bill was so promising, for those of us who support children’s rights and committed to improving children and young people’s lives in Scotland: the legislation was ‘landmark’ law, that would help ‘make rights real’ and make Scotland ‘the best place in the world to grow up’. But is the legisalation and accompanying policy radical enough to deliver on the promise?

We think we need to go further. It is welcome to have Scottish Ministers keeping ‘under consideration’ whether they can take further steps ‘to effect’ the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child – but why not incorporate children’s rights more systematically and directly? Public authorities will be reporting on what they are doing in relation to children’s rights – but they can report ‘nothing’ and pretty well meet the legal requirements. The duties in relation to children’s wellbeing are much stronger: plans for children’s services must be directed towards children’s well being; plans must be reviewed and should be implemented. For children’s wellbeing, public authorities cannot just report ‘nothing’ and meet their legal requirements.

A children’s rights approach marries a focus on children’s human dignity, recognition of their contributions now as well as in the future, as part of the broader society of human rights. Children’s rights set minimum thresholds and claims on all of us. For example, rights recognise that children can be discriminated against, simply in relation to their age. Why do we still have signs in our shops stating ‘no more than 2 children allowed in at any time’? Can you imagine that being acceptable under any other category, from cultural background to gender? But yet we accept that for children, solely on the basis of their age. Why do we allow the staggering amount of child poverty in our society, if we were serious about children’s wellbeing (1:5 children live in poverty, in Scotland – McKendrick et al. 2014)? Children’s wellbeing is aspirational and holistic – both aspects which are welcome. But you could maximise children’s wellbeing and ignore their human dignity, a typical utilitarian response of the ‘greatest happiness for the greatest number’. Rights are an important counterpart.

Social justice may well be able to reconcile these tensions – and bring together the advantages of both rights and wellbeing. Social justice is about entitlements, redistribution, recognition and respect. The Scottish idea of the Common Weal – equality, mutual work and wealth shared in common – fits well with these components of social justice. And we ask, in the report: Where are children and young people in this? What are their roles in defining, debating, delivering and expanding the idea of the Common Weal into reality? From our childhood studies and children’s rights perspectives, we suggest that they and their families are key to change and ensuring that all the current aspirational talk is actually translated into radical change. Let’s recognise children’s human dignity now and not just in the future. Let’s make ‘rights real’. Let’s make Scotland the best country to grow up in.

We suggest that, whatever one’s stance on the forthcoming independence referendum, it provides an opportunity to think what kind of Scotland we want.

The report can be found at:


Do you want to develop your skills in research and consultation with children and young people? Take a look at our Continuing Professional Development courses, delivered by Dr Susan Elsley and Professor Kay Tisdall:

10-11th March 2016: Involving children and young people in research and consultation
28-29th April 2016: Using creative methods in research with children and young people

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