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Scottish children use giant shields to deliver key messages on human rights to the United Nations

20th September 2018

Every good superhero needs a shield, and that is just what a group of young Scottish ‘human rights defenders’ have taken to Geneva this week.

The 12 children, aged 11-13, from Tranent in East Lothian have helped develop and facilitate the involvement of a further 200 children across Scotland to explore and present their views and experiences of defending human rights. They also looked at what children need from adults to empower and protect them when they are defending human rights.

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and the 70th anniversary of the UN Declaration of Human Rights. To celebrate this occasion, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has chosen ‘Children as Human Rights Defenders’ as the theme for its Day of General Discussion in September 2018.

Two of the children, Hannah and Cameron, are playing a key role this year in the development of the UN Day of General Discussion (Friday, Sept 28). They are the only children from the UK represented, working alongside children from across the world, including Moldova, Norway and India.

The 12 children have created a set of five giant papier-mache shields reflecting five human rights themes that children across Scotland feel are most significant, including the importance of play, learning, diversity, safety and love. The shields are now being presented to the United Nations in Geneva and are on display until the end of the month.

The group will also be in Geneva for the discussion day – representing the views of children from across Scotland on the global stage.

Hannah, speaking just before heading to Geneva said, “Don’t be afraid to speak up and defend what’s important to you. We need to look after rights and make sure that they are always there for every child, every human.”

Another of the young participants, Dylan, explained why he thinks being a Human Rights Defender is important: “Children as Human Rights Defenders is a great theme for the DGD as adults don’t always know what’s important in our world. If someone is being bullied, I speak up. If rights are not being respected, I fix that problem.”

Children & Young People’s Commissioner, Bruce Adamson, said, “People often think of adults in faraway places when they hear the term ‘human rights defender’, but children and young people in communities across Scotland are making a difference by defending their rights and the rights of others and we should recognise and celebrate their important work.

“It is my role to ensure that children are supported and protected when they challenge and speak truth to power. Children don’t have the same political or economic power as adults and are often excluded from decision making, yet we see children and young people from across Scotland changing lives as human rights defenders on a local, national and international level.”

East Lothian Cllr Shamin Akhtar, Cabinet Member for Education and Children’s Services, added: “Firstly I would like to thank and congratulate Hannah, Cameron and all our pupils who have been involved in this project, and to everyone else involved especially Simon Davie our Area Partnership Manager who has supported this project right from the beginning.

“This has been a tremendous initiative that our young people have fully embraced. What they have produced is some really insightful material that opens up the debate on what is meant by ‘human rights’ and how best to defend these. It also supports the work of our schools on the importance of Pupil Voice.

“It is fantastic to see the level of commitment shown by our pupils to this project which has placed their work and the work of their fellow pupils in East Lothian and across Scotland on the international stage. The recognition they are receiving for all their hard work is very well deserved and we are very proud of them.”

Children as Human Rights Defenders is a partnership between Children’s Parliament, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Together (Scottish Alliance for Children’s Rights), East Lothian Council, Fa’side Area Partnership and Recharge Youth Centre.

‘Human Rights Defender’ is a term used to describe people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights. That could include challenging discrimination, environmental concerns, access to education and addressing prejudice.

The role references rights in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, many of which are reaffirmed in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

The UN Day of General Discussion will be the first ever global discussion focusing on children as human rights defenders. Its main goal is to bring together a global movement for children human rights defenders including children, States, National Human Rights Institutions, Children’s Ombudspersons, the UN, civil society and the private sector to promote understanding about the role of children as human rights defenders,  identify what needs to be done for child rights-related laws, policies and practices to take adequate account of children as human rights defenders; and for human rights defenders-related laws, policies and practices to be child-sensitive.

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