With the Scottish Parliament passing the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill earlier this year, Ellie Moses, programme leader for our MA in children and young people’s participation and leadership, explains why it’s vital to include children and young people in decision making processes.
The Scottish Parliament has recently voted a unanimous ‘yes’ on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill, making Scotland a global frontrunner in the application of children’s rights. This Bill seeks to ensure that children and young people are given a voice, that they are provided with chances for active participation in their own society and encouraged to build resilience and leadership skills to ensure a brighter future for all.
Overall, this is a fantastic achievement for all children, young people and organisations that have been campaigning for children’s rights since the ratification of the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) by the United Kingdom in 1991.
However, we continually hear that young people are disenchanted with society, that they are not engaged, that they are unruly and hard to deal with in almost all media outlets. In short, we hear that young people are trouble! However, we do not give them the chance to be engaged, to be involved in the decision-making process, to be allowed to give their opinion on matters that affect them, so how can we expect them to be engaged in a society that effectively ‘shuts them out’?
We, as adults, make decisions for children and young people centred around their ‘best interests and welfare’, however when they reach the ‘age of majority’ we hand these decisions over to them. How can we expect young people to make these life choices without providing opportunities to develop the relevant skills and abilities to be able to make these decisions?
Children and young people are the future generation of Scotland, therefore, allowing them to be involved, will build important proficiencies for the future, such as effective communication and presentation skills; building resilience, self-esteem, understanding and empathy; it allows children to develop negotiation and leadership skills; to feel involved in their own community and wider national forum. This will allow them to feel a sense of pride in their own abilities and ensures future engagement.
The incorporation of the full UNCRC into Scottish legislation should be the seen as the most basic set of rights that all children should expect, not as the ‘gold standard’ that we hope to achieve. The right to live, freedom of expression, food, shelter, protection from abuse and exploitation, education and an to have an identity, are the most fundamental rights of all humans. We need to build upon these rights to ensure that all children have the resources to reach their full potential. We need to support children and young people to contribute within their local, national, and global communities.
It is anticipated that the new legislation will provide children and young people with opportunities for engagement and active participation. To move forward on this path, we need to ask children and young people how they see the new legislation being implemented so that it does not end up as a tokenistic gesture.
We need to involve children and young people in the application of children’s rights and provide them with the resources to achieve this outcome. What is the point of adopting children’s rights into legislation, without the involvement of children and young people in the implementation of this legislation? To fully achieve this we, as adults, also need to improve life chances and support children to make their own voices heard. We need to be facilitators rather than decision makers.
We have made a good start, but we need to do more. Moving forward as a nation, we need to eradicate inequality, poverty and protect all children from abuse and exploitation. Only then, will Scotland become “the best place in the world to grow up” (Scottish Government 2018).
This article first appeared in The Herald in June 2021.