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How can Scotland help you defend human rights?

This is what we told the United Nations

Later this month, members of the Children and Young People’s Commissioner’s office will be travelling to Geneva to talk about Rights Defenders at the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child’s Day of General Discussion.

It’s an event where the Committee chooses a topic that’s important to children and young people across the world, then invites experts of all ages to come and discuss it in detail. This year, they’re talking about how children and young people can act as human rights defenders.

Mostly, when people have thought about this subject in the past, they’ve focused on countries where it might be extremely dangerous for you to defend someone’s rights. But children and young people face barriers to defending rights everywhere – including Scotland – and it’s these that we wanted to focus on in our written submission to the Committee.

Child painting shield

Many of you are Rights Defenders now

Being a Rights Defender means you act to protect or promote the human rights of anyone in the world, whether that’s you, one or more people you already know, or a group of people who you’ve never met.

Lots of children and young people are doing this already in Scotland, even if they might not think of themselves as human rights defenders.

There’s the young girl campaigning for recognition of invisible disabilities, or the pupils from Helensburgh who fight to raise awareness of issues facing child refugees.

But there are also children and young people who defend rights in equally important everyday ways— like challenging bullying behaviour, or forming a human rights group.

Defending human rights doesn’t have to be a big thing like a campaign, or even something you know you’re doing. But it’s important adults know when things might get in the way of you doing it so that they can protect you.

Young person writing on wall

More of you could be Rights Defenders

One of the main barriers to children and young people being Rights Defenders is that adult have more power than you do. That’s true in
lots of ways, whether it’s the government or a teacher who’s making rules that make things harder for you.

It’s your right to be able to take part in decisions that affect you, but it’s still the case that this doesn’t often happen. There’s no
framework that helps you actively take part in decisions made by those in power, and you’ve told us efforts to make your voice heard at school often don’t feel like they make a difference.

And this all means that driving real change around human rights issues can be harder for you than for older people.

Child human rights defender

Our legal system isn’t set up for you

International law says that access to justice is vital for human rights defenders.

This is because defending rights can be dangerous, so knowing you can take legal action if need be can make a difference in whether
you defend them at all. But doing this as a child or young person is extremely difficult in Scotland.

The legal world isn’t designed for children and young people. It’s intimidating, confusing, and very much focused on adults.

Legal aid reform also means that it’s a lot harder to get the money you might need to take a case to court.


Children and young people face particular prejudices

Lots of people will dismiss the idea that children and young people can defend human rights in a meaningful way, and it’s
unfair of adults to expect you to change that on your own.

We can encourage other adults – like those in business and the media – to challenge this prejudice, and actively promote
positive stories.

That’s something we’ll be using this website to do, and something we’ll do more of in the years ahead.