This blog was written by Professor Laura Lundy, Professor of Education Law and Children’s Rights and the Director of the Centre for Children’s Rights at Queen’s University Belfast. Her expertise is in law and children’s rights, with a particular focus on children’s education rights and right to participate in decision-making. Professor Lundy presented at the ‘UNCRC in Scotland’ series seminar three on Monday 24th April on the ‘UNCRC in Policy’. Throughout the series, seminar speakers have been writing blogs that link their presentation with implications and lessons for Scotland. The seminar series consists of 4 seminars held in partnership between Together, the Centre for Research on Families and Relationships at the University of Edinburgh and the Centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection at the University of Stirling. The seminar series (funded by SUII) seeks to improve and address gaps in the implementation and monitoring of the UNCRC in Scotland.
Every single day, countless policies are being developed and implemented that affect children. For these to count as children’s rights-based, the following 5 ‘Ps’ are worth considering:
- Principles (and other provisions). The four general principles of the UNCRC (non-discrimination; life, survival and development; best interests; participation) are well known. Our 2012 research for UNICEF UK shows that public bodies often engage with just two of these (best interests and participation) and tend not to cover the 42 substantive provisions even where the policy areas involved are included specifically in the Convention (for example, child protection, play, health and education). That is in many respects a symptom of a general breach of one of these substantive provisions of the UNCRC – Article 42 states that its provisions should be made widely known to adults and children alike. A good grasp of the UNCRC is not only required but easily attainable. Those wanting a basic introduction can check out our short videos on the UNCRC here. The Committee on the Rights of the Child also provides helpful guidance on many policy-related issues, such as the rights of adolescents. These ‘General Comments’ are available here.
- Processes. The Committee has recommended that governments adopt child rights impact assessments for all policy and law. The UNICEF-UK research indicates that there is no one right way to approach this. Many roads can lead to the same destination. However, in every case, there is a need for access to good data on children’s lives. As one Northern Irish policy maker told us: ‘making policy without data is like going to war without a map”. In line with a rights-based approach, that data needs to be able to demonstrate how children with different needs (such as children with disabilities or children from minority backgrounds) will fare.
- Partnership. Children’s lives and needs do not fall neatly into separate packages. Likewise their rights are inter-related and inter-dependent: denial of one right can impact adversely on the enjoyment of others. Government departments and agencies on the other hand often act separately with policy makers based in distinct units that may have different priorities and budgets. Child rights-based policy requires ways of working collaboratively to ensure integrated solutions to the challenges facing children.
- Public Budgeting. All rights require resources and resources are rarely unlimited. A child rights-based approach requires governments to implement children’s rights progressively using the maximum available resources. So important is this for the implementation of children’s rights that the Committee on the Rights of the Child has issued detailed guidance on public budgeting to realize children’s rights. As a minimum, when public bodies are developing or implementing policies, they should be able to: identify how much is spent on children; check that resources are being spent effectively and efficiently; and involve children in determining spending priorities.
- Participation. A fundamental aspect of a rights-based approach is the involvement of children in decision-making impacting on their lives. There are lots ways to engage children in policy-making, not least of which is just having a face-to-face meeting with children who will be affected. Avoiding participation on the basis that it would be ‘tokenistic’ is a cop-out. Effective implementation of child participation was explored in-depth at the second ‘UNCRC in Scotland’ seminar and has been summarised in the ‘UNCRC in Practice’ briefing paper here. Children’s involvement is not an option: it is the right of the child and not the gift of adults. Yet even when children are consulted, they often report that nothing changed or at least nothing that they were told about. Full, child-friendly feedback should be offered as soon as is feasibly possible.
Much of the above will not be news to those who make policy for children. Public policies increasingly reference the UNCRC and consultations with children are becoming routine. What an explicit child rights-based approach to policy requires is a focus not just on children but also on their rights and the information, resources and collaboration required to make them a reality.
Find out more about ‘the UNCRC in Scotland’ seminar series and access resources here.