By standing up for themselves and others, Scotland’s children and young people defend human rights every day.
Most people don’t realise younger citizens can act as human rights defenders— or that they’re protected by international law when they do.
At the Children and Young People’s Commissioner’s office, we think it’s time they get the help and support they’re entitled to.
With that aim, we’ve worked with a group of young human rights defenders to create eight recommendations for adults in power in Scotland.
One: Recognise children and young people as human rights defenders
Children human rights defenders face challenges adults don’t. Sometimes they’re not taken seriously, and often they’re completely overlooked.
For example, last year the Scottish Parliament held a debate about human rights defenders but children human rights defenders were not included.
People in power can do a lot to make young human rights defenders more visible. MSPs should recognise them this year, to mark the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).
Two: Scotland should work with other countries to improve children’s human rights
As part of the UK, Scotland has to report on whether it keeps its human rights promises.
The UN often talks about this process in a dry and complicated way that puts off a lot of children and young people.
To help change that, Scotland should involve children and young people in the reporting process.
When our governments write about their record on human rights they should do it in a child-friendly way.
Three: Involve children human rights defenders in decisions on human rights
Defending human rights often depends on being able to influence important decisions.
Often children and young people aren’t meaningfully involved in decision making.
As a country we should work to change that by reserving seats for children and young people when important choices are made at the UN, and advocate for institutions across the world to adopt a similar approach.
Four: Make sure pupils learn about human rights defenders
Young human rights defenders are at risk of bullying and combating that requires a change in culture.
Teachers and schools need to tell children of all ages about what human rights defenders are, in a way that strengthens respect for what they do.
Five: Protect children human rights defenders who engage in peaceful protest
In February 15,000 children and young people across the UK were on climate ‘strike’ – refusing to go to school for a day to demand urgent action on climate change.
Some of them were threatened with detention or other punishment for doing so, which isn’t an appropriate response to peaceful protest.
Teachers are duty bearers to the pupils in their care and should uphold children’s rights when they act as human rights defenders.
Local authorities, schools and the Scottish Government should all acknowledge this, to combat barriers to protest that younger people face.
Six: Create safe spaces for children human rights defenders
An online or offline space is safe if it’s accessible, inclusive and allows everyone’s thoughts and opinions to be respected. There aren’t enough safe spaces for children and young people in Scotland.
We want to see more safe spaces created so children and young people can ask people in power questions and know how to get the help they need.
Seven: Make it easier for children human rights defenders to defend themselves
Children human rights defenders can face violence and intimidation, then find it hard to report this or to take legal action.
Forms for reporting hate crime aren’t child-friendly in Scotland, while forms for reporting violations of protections for human rights defenders aren’t child-friendly anywhere.
The UK hasn’t passed the optional protocol to the UNCRC that makes it possible for children to report a violation of their rights to the UN.
All of these things need to change.
Eight: Incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law
The UNCRC still isn’t domestic law in Scotland. That means children and young people can’t go to court to enforce their rights.
Last year, the First Minister promised to incorporate the UNCRC’s principles into Scots law.
However, the Government has only committed to consultation since thenand hasn’t even set out a timetable for that. It’s time for the Government to step up – we need a bill for UNCRC incorporation laid before MSPs before the end of this year.