What does the UNCRC have to say about the environment?

The UNCRC is one of the few human rights instruments that directly says there are promises that States have to keep around the environment.

Where is the environment directly mentioned in the UNCRC?

Article 24

Article 24 of the UNCRC says that children and young people have the right to the best health possible.

As part of that, it says that States should think about the dangers and risks of environmental pollution when they take steps to combat disease and malnutrition.

Article 29

Article 29 of the UNCRC is about the aims of education. It says that one of these is to make sure children and young people develop respect for the natural environment.

What are some other rights impacted by the environment?

In 2016 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child held a Day of General Discussion around children’s rights and the environment. You can read the report of the Day here.

This report says that many more articles of the UNCRC are impacted by damage to the environment, even if this isn’t directly stated in the Convention’s text. These include:

  • the right to non-discrimination set out in Article 2,
  • the general principles of the rights to life, survival and development set out in Article 6,
  • the right to an identity set out in Article 8,
  • the right to be heard set out in Article 12,
  • the rights to freedom of expression and information set out in Articles 13 and 17,
  • the rights to protection from all forms of violence and to physical and mental integrity set out in Article 19,
  • the rights to food, water, sanitation and housing set out in Articles 24 and 27,
  • the right to education set out in Article 28,
  • the rights to rest, leisure, play, recreational activities, cultural life and the arts set out in Article 31,
  • the right to freedom from exploitation set out in Article 32,
  • the right to an adequate standard of living set out in Article 37.

A new general comment on the environment

In June 2021, the Committee on the Rights of the Child committed to creating a new General Comment around the environment, which will have a special focus on climate change.

What has our office done around assessments in 2021?

Since the cancellation of 2021’s exams was announced, our office has raised concerns around the appeals process.

When the SQA consulted around the 2021 appeals process, we raised concerns that their consultation wasn’t accessible to young people and didn’t encourage them to participate. Our own response to the consultation raised  human rights concerns with the process.

In April we highlighted that the SQA’s Alternative Certification Model needed to take exceptional circumstances into account, just as they are in years where there isn’t a global pandemic. We also published an FAQ about how to ask for extra support at school.

And currently we’re continuing to highlight the need for these critical changes, sharing the concerns of young people and pointing to where Scottish Government can step in if needed.

What is alternative care?

Children and young people tend to be brought up by their birth parents, but some are brought up in other ways. Alternative care is a term used to describe these.

Some forms of alternative care are:

  • residential care,
  • foster care,
  • adoption,
  • kinship care― living with a family member other than a parent.

Unaccompanied children can also be placed in alternative care.

Can I get extra support from school now we’re back to full time learning?

With secondary schools going back to full time learning, some young people will find they have been affected more than others by not being in school.  This means that they have had a bigger interruption to their learning than others in their class, so they’ll need extra help.

Some reasons you might have been disproportionately affected are:

  • You couldn’t follow online learning because you didn’t have a laptop or tablet, or enough data, or the device you had was too old to run software you needed,
  • Your internet connection meant you couldn’t watch video lessons or attend online classes,
  • You usually get extra help in class from teachers or someone else, but you didn’t get this during online learning,
  • You were asked to self-isolate, so you missed more in-person school than your friends did,
  • You have a disability that made online learning more difficult for you— like being deaf, having a physical or visual impairment or being dyslexic, dyspraxic, autistic or neurodiverse in another way,
  • Your home and family circumstances made online learning difficult, for example because you had to help look after younger brothers and sisters, your family were homeless, you experienced domestic abuse, you were living in a care home; or English is not the language you usually speak at home,
  • You are a young carer and you had to do more than usual,
  • Someone close to you was seriously ill or has died.

Schools need to make sure all young people are properly supported. It is important they do so for those who have been affected more than others due to the pandemic. That makes it more likely that grades will be fair when they are assessed. 

What do I do if I think I need extra support?

You may need extra support to help you learn now that schools are back.  Schools must provide you with the support you need – and help you work out what will help you best. 

If you think you need extra support in some way, you should talk to someone at your school.  Who this should be will be different from school to school, but some of the people it might be are:

  • Your class teacher,
  • Your guidance or pupil support teacher.

When you talk to someone, you should explain why you think what has happened over the last two school years has affected you in a disproportionate way. 

Your teachers should talk to you about what they will do to help you. For example, if you have missed school work they might arrange for you to have some extra support.  You should talk to your teachers if you are concerned about how they will take your needs into account when you are doing assessments.

What if I’m not happy with the support my school arranges? What if my school doesn’t offer me extra support?

If you are not happy with the support you get, or aren’t offered extra support, you could make a formal complaint. 

If you go to a local authority (Council) run school (which is almost all state schools in Scotland), the Council that runs your school will have details of its Complaints Policy on their website. 

You should make your complaint in writing if you can and say that you are making a formal complaint under the Council’s complaints policy.  You should provide as much detail as possible.  You should address your complaint to your school’s Headteacher – if they are not the person who will deal with your complaint, then they should pass it on to the right person.  You can ask [the person dealing with your complaint] to answer your complaint in writing.

If you’re still not happy you can ask the Council to look at it again.  This is called a Stage 2 complaint.  You should be told how to do this when they respond to your first complaint, but if not you should write to your Headteacher, telling them you want to make a Stage 2 complaint. 

What if I am still not happy after making a Stage 2 complaint?

You can ask one of two independent bodies to look at your complaint.  

If your complaint is about additional support needs you may be able to refer it to the Health and Education Chamber of the First Tier Tribunal for Scotland. (sometimes called the ASN Tribunal) 

If your complaint was not about additional support needs, you can ask the Scottish Public Sector Ombudsman (SPSO) to look at it. 

Both of these have lots of information about how to complain on their websites. 

Who can help me when I try to get extra support from school?

My Rights My Say are funded by the Scottish Government to help young people aged 12-15 exercise their rights to additional support. Enquire can provide advice to young people of any age and their parents.  You can call them on 0345 123 2303 or visit their website.

Young people have all experienced lockdown differently, but some have been forced to self-isolate, not had the in-school support they usually rely on, taken on additional burdens at home, and experienced many more challenges along the way. That is why it is so important that young people who feel they need it, know the ways they can get support, and use them if they feel they need to. So if you think you might need any extra help or support , or you’d like to know more about the options available to you, start by speaking to your school about the support you feel you need.

If you feel you need any additional support, that is where this FAQ comes in. It has been developed by the CYPCS team to provide you with some practical suggestions about what you can do if you think you are not being treated fairly.”

—Cameron Garrett, MSYP

Will the UK Government’s challenge to the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill delay when it comes into force?

It doesn’t have to.

The UK Government’s challenge will delay the Bill getting Royal Assent― where the Queen approves a Bill and so makes it become a law.

The UNCRC Incorporation Bill says it must come into force within six months of receiving Royal Assent. But that doesn’t mean children and young people in Scotland have to wait the full six months: they’ve already waited long enough.

After Royal Assent, the Scottish Government has the power to make the law commence before six months have passed.

Adult duty bearers across Scotland should work to make sure incorporation happens as soon as possible. Nothing about the UK Government’s challenge changes that.

The UK Government is challenging the UNCRC (Incorporation) (Scotland) Bill. Does that mean incorporation isn’t going to happen?


The Scottish Parliament has limited powers, so there are some things it can’t make laws about.

The UK Government believes some parts of the Bill go beyond these powers, and these are the parts it is challenging.

But it is only challenging these parts, and not the Bill as a whole. If the challenge is successful, these parts of the Bill may change― but incorporation of some form will still happen in Scotland.

Together Scotland’s website has more detail about the specifics of the UK Government’s challenge.

What are the general principles of the UNCRC?

The four general principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are that all children and young people:

Together, these four principles underpin how the Convention should be interpreted and put into practice.

How can people protect the environment while protecting themselves from coronavirus?
Facemasks beside a question mark with a stylised image of a virus forming the dot.

Children have told us they’re worried that people aren’t getting rid of facemasks properly, and that people are forgetting about the environment because we’re so busy with Covid-19.

They’ve been unhappy to see so many disposable masks on the ground as litter. And they think people should use reusable face masks where they can, or other types of reusable face coverings.

Disposable masks can often only be used once. They’ve been in the news due to the amount of plastic waste they’ve generated.

Taking children seriously

Children often tell us they’re concerned about the environment, and that it’s not something adults think about enough. As Article 12 of the UNCRC says, this is an opinion which we should listen to and take seriously.

So we’ve agreed to highlight that this is something that matters a lot to them.

What does the Scottish Government say about getting rid of face masks?

The Scottish Government has advice on its website explaining:

  • how to take proper care of reusable face masks, and
  • how to get rid of face masks which can’t be used again.

As it says, disposable face coverings and gloves can’t be recycled, so will be more damaging to the environment than reusable alternatives. But if you do use them, you should still make sure to put them in a bin.

Why do children in conflict with the law need special protection?

It is important people are protected from crime – including crimes committed by children – and that victims are given some remedy. 

However, this has to be balanced with the fact that some children in conflict with the law may have experienced difficulties in their childhood – such as poverty, family breakdown or drug and alcohol use –which has led to their behaviour.

Some of them may also be victims themselves.  

Where the law says that a child should be punished for their actions in the criminal justice system, this can impact their future. States must recognise children’s vulnerability both as victims and perpetrators of crime. 

What is the right to a fair trial?

Everyone has the right to a fair trial, whatever their age.

For children, this includes:

The right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty

Children have the right to be assumed innocent of a crime until the prosecution – whoever brought a case against them to court – has proven they are guilty of it.

The right to privacy while being tried

While a child is being tried, the media shouldn’t publish any information that might lead to them being identified by members of the public. This would include their name or address.

The right to effectively participate in their trial

A child must be able to follow their trial and understand what’s going on. They must also be able to express their views, and the judge must properly take their views into account.

All of these rights are set out in Article 40 of the UNCRC.

What is a Compulsory Supervision Order?

A Compulsory Supervision Order is a formal order made by a Children’s Hearing. It’s for children who need additional protection or support.

When an Order like this is made, it means a child’s local authority has to support them and give their family help.

It also means there are certain rules the child has to follow. For example, they may have to live in a certain place, such as in secure care or a children’s house, away from their family.

As a result of these laws, many 16 and 17-year-olds in Scotland are not recognised as children when they commit crimes. Instead, they are instead treated as adults in adult courts.

What is secure accommodation?

Secure accommodation is a place where children can go to get help if it isn’t safe to live at home because they might hurt themselves or someone else.

To make sure that they get the help they need and to keep them safe, they are locked in and can’t leave. It is a place that children should only go if there is no other place where they can get help.

It is important that children are involved in the decision to send them to secure accommodation. They should understand why it is in their best interest to be there.

If children can make decisions before the age of 18, why shouldn’t they be treated as adults when they commit a crime?

There is an important difference in the UNCRC between rights to protection and rights to participation.

Rights to participation are about our ability to make decisions, such as voting or making decisions about medical treatment. For example, the law in Scotland says that under 16s can consent to medical treatment if a doctor believes they understand what the treatment or procedure means.

However, rights to protection exist to protect children from harm. Because punishing children, and treating them as adults when they commit crimes, can be harmful, Article 37 and Article 40 of the UNCRC are both protection rights.

That means that every child should enjoy them until they are 18. 

Someone has their hand up beside someone else, who is thinking of a thumbs up and an equals sign.

UNCRC Article 37

I have the right not to be punished in a cruel or hurtful way

A judge holds up their finger as a person beside them thinks of a thumbs up and an equals sign.

UNCRC Article 40

I have the right to get legal help and to be treated fairly if I have been accused of breaking the law

What is full and direct incorporation of the UNCRC?

Full incorporation means writing the whole of the UNCRC into Scots law— all of it, not just specific parts.

Direct incorporation means that the full legal text of the Convention would be written into Scots law— so no part of it is rewritten.

Do I need to wear a face covering – like a face mask – at school?
An image of face masks beside a question mark with a stylised image of a virus forming the dot.

The Scottish Government has changed its guidance on when children and young people should wear face coverings— such as face masks.

You can find the new guidance here. It says that from 2nd November:

  • In secondary schools, you should wear a face covering when moving around in areas where it’s hard to physically distance. This might include corridors, and some communal areas.
  • Everyone who’s 5 or over and isn’t exempt should wear a face covering on school transport, like they already have to on public transport.
  • If you are in S4 to S6 you should also wear a mask in classes and other areas, unless you are eating or drinking. 
  • For younger children, if you’re in a classroom – or somewhere else where you’re not moving around – you don’t need to wear a face covering. But if you still want to, you can.

If you can’t wear a face covering for health reasons or because of a disability, you don’t have to. For example, you may be on the autistic spectrum and find the sensation of wearing a covering very distressing.

What is a face covering?

A face covering is a form of material which covers the mouth or nose. It can be cloth or textile, and can be reusable or disposable.

  • Face masks aren’t the only form of face covering: scarves, buffs and bandanas all also count as well.
  • You don’t have to wear a medical grade mask to school.
  • You can get more information about face coverings on the Scottish Government’s website.

What should I do if I don’t feel able to wear a face covering?

If you don’t feel able to wear a face covering, speak to your teachers or parent or carer. Your schools should respond well to this and provide you with support. If they don’t, you can show them this FAQ.

Your school should make sure that everyone understands that some young people may not be able to wear face coverings, and that you have a right to privacy about the reasons you aren’t able to wear one. Your school has a responsibility to make sure there is no bullying or stigma about not wearing a mask.

Why has this advice been introduced?

The Scottish Government has said that children and young people wearing face coverings in school will reduce the risk of Covid-19 being spread from person to person. 

Reducing the spread helps protect the right to life of children and young people, their families, their teachers and everyone else in society.

The Government has said that face coverings may also decrease the risk that schools have to be closed due to outbreaks amongst the staff or pupils.

Wearing face coverings in some parts of secondary schools and on transport is only one part of reducing the spread of coronavirus at school:

  • Physical distancing is still important,
  • It’s important your school is laid out in a way that minimises spread and is well-ventilated,
  • It’s important school timetables are changed to reduce crowding.

What do we think about this new advice?

Scottish Government should have consulted you about it

We think the Scottish Government should have consulted with children and young people before it issued this new guidance. 

As this is something that will affect children and young people, it’s important that you  have a say.

Children and young people have the right to participate in all decisions which affect them, and this is something we’ve been asking Scottish Government to do throughout the pandemic.  

Scottish Government should explain why it exists

Children and young people have done everything that’s been asked of them throughout this pandemic, but you need to understand the reasons why you’re now being asked to do more.

So it’s really important that the Scottish Government is clear why they have made these decisions.

They need to explain why they’re proportionate, necessary, lawful and time limited – and guided by scientific advice.

Scottish Government needs to set out their explanation and the evidence for it in a Children’s Rights Impact Assessment. This should also lay out the steps they’ll take to lessen the decision’s impact on your rights

These decisions must be kept under review.

What should schools do now this new advice is in place?

Schools should work with children and young people on how they will implement the changes and on how they’ll use face coverings..

They should provide free face coverings so all children and young people are able to wear them.

In line with new World Health Organisation guidelines, they should also provide the hygiene facilities you need to use face coverings effectively – like places to wash your hands and hand sanitiser when you enter or leave a classroom.

What should schools do when children don’t wear face coverings?

Some children and young people might be worried or might not be able to wear a face covering. There are lots of reasons for this, including:

  • having asthma,
  • relying on lip reading,
  • having disability that means you are distressed at having your mouth and nose covered.

There must be no sanctions or punishments – such as detentions – for children and young people who do not wear a face covering. Schools should make sure that all teachers and students understand that some children will not be wearing face masks. 

Schools should also be aware that some children and young people may be distressed by others wearing face masks, and make sure they are supported and reassured.

What should I do if my school isn’t giving me access to fresh water?

Access to water is a human right. It’s essential to a child’s right to health, and to fully realising their right to education.

In 2019 the Children’s Future Food Inquiry report identified access to free drinking water in schools as a key issue which disproportionately impacts children experiencing poverty and food insecurity. 

Education authorities in Scotland are required to provide drinking water to children in schools. This duty is set out in Regulation 7 of The Nutritional Requirements for Food and Drink in Schools (Scotland) Regulations 2020.

This is still the law during the coronavirus pandemic.

No emergency law or policy has changed this.

No guidance has been issued at a national level which would prevent water being provided to children in school for health reasons.

It is important that access to drinking water is provided safely and education authorities should support schools to do this.

If you’re not being allowed access to fresh water at your school – or if you know of a child or young person who’s being denied it – you should contact the head teacher in the first instance and draw their attention to the regulations and to this statement.

If necessary you can ask the head teacher to seek advice from the education authority, who should support them to ensure that drinking water can be provided within the school in a way that protects the rights to health of children and staff. 

The Commissioner’s office has written to the Scottish Government asking them to provide clarity to schools on this matter.