Children’s Rights and the UNCRC – Part 1

by | May 4, 2022 | News, News | 0 comments


The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is a legally binding international agreement setting out the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights of every child under the age of 18.

These rights are universal, inalienable, inherent, indivisible, and unconditional. 


The UNCRC consists of 54 articles that set out children’s rights and how governments should work together to make them available to all children. 

Under the terms of the convention, governments are required to meet children’s basic needs and help them reach their full potential.  It can be categorised as containing 42 substantive articles related to the provision, protection, and participation rights of children.  

The principles contained in the following articles should be at the heart of all work involving children and young people: the non-discrimination (Art 2), best interest’s (Art 3), survival and development (Art 6) and children’s participation (Art 12) principles. 

A child friendly version of the UNCRC can be found here:

In 2000, two optional protocols were added to the UNCRC.  One asks governments to ensure children under the age of 18 are not forcibly recruited into their armed forces. The second calls on states to prohibit child prostitution, child pornography and the sale of children into slavery. These have now been ratified (signed) by more than 120 states.

A third optional protocol was added in 2011. This enables children whose rights have been violated to complain directly to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.


Since it was adopted by the United Nations in November 1989, 196 countries have signed up to the UNCRC, with only the USA still to ratify.  The UK signed the treaty on 16 December 1991. 


All countries that sign up to the UNCRC are bound by international law to ensure it is implemented. This is monitored by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.  This Committee oversees what countries are doing to implement the UNCRC and monitors their progress.

In Scotland, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland plays a key role in supporting the implementation of the UNCRC. They can investigate the extent to which a service provider has regarded the rights and views of groups of children.  Service providers who can be investigated include those from the voluntary, private, and public sector.

Part 2 of the Children and Young People (Scotland) Act 2014 introduced an individual investigations function to the role of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland.  This will provide a limited mechanism through which children can seek an investigation into violations of their UNCRC rights. Children, their parents, and other adults who support them will be able to ask the Commissioner to investigate the extent to which an individual child’s rights have been upheld. The Commissioner will be able to make recommendations about what should be done to make improvements but will not have the power to order a service provider to act in accordance with the Convention.

The Scottish Government also uses child rights and wellbeing impact assessments (CRWIAs) to assess how Scottish Government policies and legislation impact children’s rights.

Real change for children and young people also happens when adults listen to them and act on what is heard.  There are some examples of children and young people being involved in decision-making in Scotland.  For example, since 2017, the Scottish Cabinet and representatives of the Scottish Youth Parliament and Children’s Parliament have met to hear children and young people’s views on key issues affecting their lives at home, at school and in their communities.  These views inform the Scottish Governments agenda.  The Scottish Parliament then publishes a report on the actions agreed with the children and young people, and reports on the progress made towards achieving these.  

The Scottish Government has produced a ‘10-minute training tool’ to help people learn about children’s human rights under the UNCRC. Access the tool here

The Scottish Government has also published a National Action Plan for Human Rights (SNAP), a roadmap towards a ‘Scotland where everyone can live with human dignity’.  The Scottish Government has given a strong commitment to the Plan.  Read more about SNAP here.

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