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Don’t be afraid; just go for it!

Scottish Children Take Over the United Nations

‘Don’t be afraid; just go for it.’

That’s the wise advice I received from a human rights defender I met last week at the United Nations in Geneva. This person might not fit the image we think of when we hear human rights defender or UN.

Emily comes from a small Scottish town, in an area where one in five children live in poverty. She’s a painter and designer whose work has been displayed alongside world famous artists. She was wearing bright blue tartan trousers with glittery chrome nails to the UN Day of General Discussion (DGD) on children’s rights.

Oh, and she’s only 12 years old.

Anyone can be a Human Rights Defender

Any background, any age

Four Members of Children's Parliament at the UN Day of General Discussion.

People of any background and any age can be human rights defenders. A human rights defender is someone who takes an action to protect or promote their own rights, or the rights of others.

“It’s important that children’s rights are defended and protected. If they’re not then – like – we don’t have full protection.”
– Emily, 12-year-old Human Rights Defender from East Lothian

It can be dangerous to stand up for human rights and to take on the role of a defender. Sometimes family, friends, the local community or even a defender’s government don’t understand when they see people promoting human rights, or fear that it means they might lose power.

Rights defenders can face discrimination or abuse when they speak out against human rights violations. It can be difficult – and sometimes risky – for a rights defender to take their case to the police or to court. It’s so important that all human rights defenders – and children in particular – are protected by the state they live in, the school they go to, the
international community and other duty bearers in their lives.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child chose the theme ‘Children as Human Rights Defenders’ for the 2018 Day of General Discussion on children’s rights at the United Nations.Children and Young People’s Commissioner Bruce, members of Children’s Parliament, the Scottish Youth Parliament,Who Cares? Scotland,ENABLE Scotland and Together joined the biggest group of children human rights defenders at the DGD this year to discuss the theme and what needs to happen next.

Children and adults used the space to remind children around the world that they hold enormous power to advance human rights, that arts and music are a tool for change, that children who do bad things can learn to safely integrate back into society, that children need to be taken seriously by adults, and much, much more.

At the DGD

Scotland's children and young people influence the world

Graphic reading DGD: Day of General Discussion on Children's Rights. The DGD is not just an event; it's a big global project to support children to defend their rights.
For the first time, the DGD was designed with a global Children’s Advisory Team, coordinated by Child Rights Connect. Hannah and Cameron from East Lothian are the only children from the UK on the Children’s Advisory Team. It felt like children from Scotland had taken over the UN for a day. There was a flash of tartan in every room, five giant shields illustrating 200 children’s priorities on display, Scottish accents on almost every panel and a live feed buzzing with #DGD2018 Tweets from people across Scotland during the day’s closing remarks.

One of the highlights of the day was when 12-year-old Hannah kept VIP speakers in line during her role as panel moderator. Later, I asked her what it felt like to be the youngest moderator at the UN DGD and she said she’d felt a little nervous (it didn’t show) but pointed out that ‘children know almost as much as adults; it’s just that sometimes adults need to be a little more patient.’

Hannah with Amal Al-Dossari, member of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The DGD was my induction into the world of international children’s rights as the new Legal Officer (International) for the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland. It became clear very early on that to do well in my job I not only need to listen to young human rights defenders like the group I met last week, but to actively follow their advice. Something one young inspiring person told me is going to be my new mantra for the rest of the year:

“You have tons (of human rights) and if they’re not all being respected, you’re not being respected.”
– Alexander, 12-year-old Human Rights Defender from East Lothian

One way for Scotland to demonstrate its respect for children and the tons of rights they each have is to incorporate the full UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into domestic law. Incorporation (when we embed or merge the language of an international treaty into Scots Law) is something that I will be working on with Bruce and the rest of his team over the next few months. It’s my answer to ‘what’s next?’ now that the DGD has come to an end. The event might be over, but thousands of children human rights defenders are still out there, waiting for adults to take them and the legal protection and remedy that they need seriously.