On WORLD CHILDREN’S DAY, let’s travel beyond Scotland’s shores to look at another country’s system for protecting and enhancing child rights!
World Children's Day first started in 1954 and is celebrated on 20 November each year to promote international togetherness and to raise awareness of the issues faced by children all over the world. While we always recognise that the children are our future, as Family Law solicitors we are always interested in the approaches of other jurisdictions. For World Children’s Day, we decided to look at how our near neighbour, Iceland approaches children’s rights and how as a legislature it continues to enhance those rights.
We wonder whether Scotland may be inspired by Iceland in years to come!
Iceland is generally regarded as having a comprehensive and robust system in place for protecting child rights, ranking as it does within the top three of the KidsRights Index 2023. In Iceland, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child became law in 2013. The Convention provides for various basic rights and ensures special protection and care for all children under 18 years of age with emphasis being placed on the right of all children to be full participants in the community and to be heard.
The rights of children and their protection are enshrined within a number of statutes, for example, The Child Protection Act, No. 80/2002. This is aimed at ensuring children who have poor home circumstances or whose wellbeing is being threatened receive the support that they need. The Children's Act, 76/2003 has at its core the universal issues of the rights of children, parents and custody, child support, parental and family access.
Within Iceland, there are three tiers of authorities governing child protection. The Ministry of Social Affairs is the main authority and it is the National Agency for Children and Families which has responsibility for the day-to-day administration of child protection services. There are also local child protection committee’s which are responsible for providing child protection services at the community level.
In addition to being known for having a robust child protection system in place, Iceland is also one of the most advanced European countries in promoting investment in children. Iceland has recently adopted the Prosperity Act which is aimed at further enhancing the rights of the child and increasing the prosperity of children. According to the Act, all service providers are obliged to collaborate in a more integrated way than ever before, with the principal aim of ensuring that children who require integrated services, together with their caregivers, receive appropriate and unhindered access to the support they need. With the implementation of this new Act and the government investing more in services for children and families, this has been hailed as a beneficial investment having provided a 9.6% return. This is more than the government would normally expect to attain from other large social investment projects. It will be interesting to see if other countries follow in Iceland’s footsteps once the Prosperity Act is fully operational and will also look to implement rules and regulations to codify investment in children.
In Scotland, the Scottish Government has the responsibility for protecting and enforcing child rights. Like Iceland, we have a tiered approach to how authorities operate, in whom responsibility for child protection, is vested. The Scottish Government sets out policies, legislation and statutory guidance on how the child protection system should function. The Child Protection Committees (CPCs) are then responsible for implementing child protection policy, procedure, guidance and for putting those into practice.
In Scotland, we have also incorporated “children’s rights” as set out in the UN Convention on Rights of a Child by the Scottish Parliament passing a bill on March 16, 2021, the UNCRC (Incorporation)(Scotland) Bill. With this Bill having been passed relatively recently, it is apparent that Scotland is looking to enhance the rights and protections we already have in place for children.
With Iceland proving that a shift towards investing in children is not only possible but also convenient for both children themselves and the country’s economy as a whole, it could be that Scotland may one day follow and so will open a new, challenging and interesting chapter for those whose work and even volunteering involves enhancing the rights of children.
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 CoE (2023). Reykjavik conference: Investing in children – the key to prosperity. Retrieved from CoE at https://www.coe.int/en/web/portal/-/reykjavik-conference-investing-in-children-the-key-to-prosperity, accessed on 29 April 2023