LAST week saw the Scottish Parliament pass the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill.

A bill with a long name that has undertaken a significant journey that will now transform the lives of children and their families across Scotland.

After many, many years of campaigning by children, young people and their allies, including Together – the Scottish Alliance of Children’s Rights – and successive Children’s Commissioners for Scotland, the UNCRC will become part of Scots law in six months.

The significance of passing this bill cannot be overstated. The UNCRC is an international treaty adopted in 1989 which has been ratified by all United Nations member states, with the exception of the United States of America. The United Kingdom member state ratified the Convention in 1991, meaning they accepted the legal obligations to recognise the rights contained within the Convention; only a small number of countries have incorporated the UNCRC into their domestic legislation, and now Scotland has too.

Incorporation provides additional legal protection for children and their families by providing additional legal obligations on public authorities to act in a manner consistent with the UNCRC. Importantly, it also provides accountability by ensuring the ability to seek redress where the rights of children are breached.

These rights, contained within the UNCRC and its optional protocols, are supplemented by general comments and other guidance provided by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child to assist in upholding the rights of children and their families. The rights contained within the UNCRC include the right to education, an adequate standard of life, access to health care, respect for the views of the child, as well as the right to play and the right to peaceful assembly.

The UNCRC ultimately provides a strong legal framework for Scotland to tackle a range of different economic, social and cultural rights issues. This will ensure children and their families see action on the poverty pandemic in Scotland which currently sees at least one in four children living in poverty. There will also be greater emphasis upon tackling the mental health crisis which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic. Incorporation of the UNCRC will ensure human rights can protect a greater number of people.

The incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law has been a journey driven by children and young people over many years. Between September and November last year, the outreach team at the Scottish Parliament supported the Equalities and Human Rights Committee to develop the largest and most inclusive consultation process involving children and young people the Scottish Parliament has ever seen.

The committee heard directly from children with a wide range of experiences and views. The groups represented included children with disabilities, young carers, care experienced children, refugees and asylum seekers, those from ethnic minority groups, children from lower-income families and children without access to the internet. The children spoke directly to the committee by sharing videos, drawing pictures and writing letters as well as showing what rights mean to them through play. The progress of the bill through Parliament reflected the ethos of the UNCRC, giving much optimism for the future of children’s rights in Scotland.

In what has been an exceptional month for human rights, the Scottish Government have also accepted the recommendation of the Human Rights Taskforce to incorporate four other international treaties into Scots law. The years ahead see a brilliant opportunity for Scotland to continue its human rights leadership which ultimately will improve the day-to-day lives of many.

The incorporation of the UNCRC into Scots law signals the start of a new journey – a journey characterised by cultural change where children aren’t seen as the future, they are seen as the here and now.

Dr Tracy Kirk is a human rights researcher and academic specialising in the domestic and international rights of children and young people at Glasgow Caledonian University