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The climate strike: Children defending the human rights of us all

Children and Young People’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson on the young human rights defenders taking part in the climate strike on Friday 15 February.

We often hear it said that ‘children are the future’ and – when it comes to climate justice – people see sense in the notion of adults as the guardians of the planet for future generations.

But that misses the point.

What we saw at the climate strike is children actively defending all our human rights. They are playing an important role in directing attention to an issue that affects all human beings. They are standing up to power and demanding change.

Children need to be respected as equal citizens now. They don’t have the same political or economic power as adults and are often excluded from decision making, yet despite this we see children and young people from across Scotland acting as human rights defenders on a local, national and international level.

Over the last year I have had the huge pleasure of working with children from across Scotland who act as human rights defenders, and it is my role to ensure that children are supported and protected when they speak truth to power.

Those in power have a duty to recognise, empower and protect young human rights defenders.

It is important that children who take part in legitimate forms of expression on important human rights issues do not face reprisals. In the context of the climate strike it is important to note that the State’s positive obligations to provide education specifically includes education directed to ‘the development of respect for the natural environment’.

As we mark the 30th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child this year, we should celebrate children’s status as human beings with a distinct set of rights, and an active role to play in society — not just as passive objects of care and charity.

Read stories of young human rights defenders in Scotland.