Children’s human rights ‘overturned’ during pandemic

Scotland's Children's Commissioner warns that youngsters have 'been left with no voice.'

Some of young people’s human rights have been temporarily overturned amid the response to the coronavirus pandemic, Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner has warned.

Bruce Adamson said youngsters have been left with no voice in the creation of policies which directly affect them, such as the cancellation of exams or the change to a new method of assessment.

He also said the impact of emergency legislation, created at speed during the height of the coronavirus pandemic, on vulnerable groups of children is impossible to properly assess due to serious gaps in data collection.

Mr Adamson is calling on the Scottish Government to observe its commitment to include children and young people in decision-making.

“The pandemic has revealed that we’ve not made as much progress on children’s rights as we would like to think in Scotland,” he said.

“Under pressure, too many of our systems and structures reverted to treating children as passive recipients of charity and welfare rather than active agents in their own lives and valued members of our communities.”

He added: “The Scottish and UK Governments responded to the pandemic by enacting emergency legislation intended to protect public health; this also impacted significantly on a wide range of children’s human rights.

“Some of these measures temporarily overturned and/or bypassed human rights protections for children that had been long established in Scots law.”

Mr Adamson said there is no collective data on the total number of children who are living in poverty, suffering food insecurity, have been digitally excluded, deprived of their liberty in various settings, are receiving mental health support services, or are needing additional support for learning.

And he said that “without this data it is hard to see how children’s needs are being met, no matter how well-intentioned the legislation is”.

The commissioner said that, during the pandemic, the Scottish Government has not routinely assessed the impact of law and policy responses to Covid-19 on children.

And he said a commitment by the Scottish Government to carry out a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment on all legislation affecting children and young people should be at the heart of future decision-making.

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “Children’s rights and wellbeing matter now more than ever, and the Bill to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Scots law will be delivered within this parliamentary session as planned.

“A children’s rights approach is being embedded into our response to Covid-19 and our approach to recovery and renewal, with Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessments published for the Coronavirus (Scotland) Act and the Coronavirus (Scotland) (No2) Act.

“We are also working with partners in health, schools, local authorities and the third sector to provide support and mitigate against the impacts of this crisis, and this work is supported by the Children, Young People and Families Advisory Group to ensure that the voices of the most vulnerable are heard.”

Abigail McGill, 15, a member of the Commissioner’s Young Advisers Group, which has been working extensively on Covid-19 issues, said: “Life-changing decisions being made during coronavirus, like exams being cancelled, has felt like playing a game, and every time it should be our turn, someone skips over us and we end up left behind and forgotten.

“Feeling out of control with no say has made young people’s mental health worse.

“We need to be involved in key decisions about our lives and it is even more important when life still feels scary and unclear for us all.”

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