Two young people from Scotland will address the UN in Geneva today (6 May 2019) when they give evidence on Scotland’s human rights record to the UN Committee Against Torture (UN CAT).
EJ Carroll and Katrina Lambert will be supported by the Children’s and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland in their roles as Human Rights Defenders. Both aged 18, they are the youngest people to ever address the UN Committee.
The evidence session will inform the Committee as they prepare to examine the UK Government on Tuesday on where the UK and devolved governments currently fail to meet international human rights obligations.
For Scotland, the Committee is interested in hearing about the age of criminal responsibility; the use of restraint and seclusion in schools; physical punishment of children and the use of so-called mosquito devices. All the topics infringe the rights of children and young people and have been subject of campaigns by the Commissioner and other youth organisations.
Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland said it was important that young people made their own, powerful case to the UN about the issues that affect children and young people’s lives including the age at which children are criminalised. Parliament is currently considering setting the age at 12 years which is two years below the accepted international standard of 14.
“The Scottish Government wants to be a human rights leader but is acting contrary to that by choosing to set the age at which we criminalise children at 12,” Mr Adamson said. “This debate has seen unprecedented interventions from the United Nations and the Council of Europe who have been absolutely clear that anything below 14 years cannot be justified in human rights terms. The positive and progressive things we do in Scotland don’t allow us to ignore international minimums which apply to all countries.
“Only last week, the First Minister announced a commitment to fully protect the rights of children by incorporating the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into Scots law, by the end of this Parliament in 2021. While this announcement is to be applauded, it shouldn’t distract from the areas where Scotland is clearly failing, areas that young people themselves will evidence in Geneva on Monday.”
EJ Carroll said: “Children and young people have the right to be included and our views taken seriously at the highest levels when it comes to issues that affect our lives.”
Katrina Lambert added: “Having young people at the heart of the UN is absolutely crucial. We’re so excited to have this opportunity to address the Committee but we don’t want to an exception to the norm; children and young people should be included here and in other places of influence.”
Monday’s presentation is based on a joint submission to the UN Committee Against Torture by the Children’s Commissioners of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The submission includes a number of recommendations for action by the UK and devolved governments:
- Incorporate the UN Convention Against Torture (UNCAT) and UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law as a matter of urgency.
- Raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years, without delay, and immediately start work to raise to a higher minimum age, for instance 15 or 16 years.
- Ensure that children under 18 years are not detained in prisons, other adult provision, or young offender institutions. Where children do need detained for safety and proportionate sanctions, they should be given appropriate human rights centred support and accommodation.
- Provide data and rights-based practice guidance on the use of strip-searching across the range of institutions where children are detained.
- Create national policy and statutory guidance on restraint and seclusion of children in all settings and should require Scottish Government to record and report data on restraint and seclusion of children in all settings.
- Ensure that every child has equal protection from all forms of assault, including physical punishment, through legislative reform and a commitment to fully resourced family support.
- Ban the use of acoustic ‘mosquito’ devices used to disperse gatherings of children and young people in public places.
- Decriminalise abortion and ensure girls’ access to safe abortion and post-abortion care services in Northern Ireland, without delay.
- Continue to work to address the role that ‘paramilitary organisations’ have in the lives of children and young people and greater effort must be made to work in partnership with community-based NGOs and young people themselves.
Later this month Scotland will be in the spotlight again, when the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, presents what is expected to be a damning report on the corrosive impact of poverty on children.