A group of children leaving a school building

The importance of child rights education after Brexit

by Katy Brown, Projects Officer at Unicef

Published: 02 Dec 2016

There has never been a more important time to educate and empower the next generation with knowledge about their rights.

Children and young people are rarely in a position to stand up for their own rights - so the need for a legal framework that embeds and protects their best interests is vital.

Whilst the government, for the time being at least, is still bound by the Human Rights Act 1998 and other domestic legislation that protects children’s interests, every opportunity needs to be taken to strengthen children’s rights. Importantly, the United Nations Convention of the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), which sets out the inalienable rights of every child, will continue to apply to the UK after its departure from the EU.

The UK ratified the UNCRC in 1991 and it sets out 54 articles covering the civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights that allow children and young people to live with dignity, and to achieve their full potential.  The four general principles of the UNCRC cover:

  • non-discrimination
  • the best interests of the child
  • the right to survival and development
  • the right of children to be heard, and have their views taken into account in matters that affect them

These general principles provide a lens through which every other right in the convention should be implemented; and it is crucial, post-Brexit, that all UK government policy and practice which affects children takes these principles into account.

It is generally accepted that a child-rights approach to education means educating in a way that reflects the principles set out the UNCRC - enabling children and young people to know and enjoy their rights. The UN Committee has recently recommended that children’s rights education be mandatory in the UK (concluding observations, Word document). Lots of studies have shown a rights-based approach to education has positive outcomes for children including an increase in tolerance amongst pupils, better behaviour in class, higher self-esteem, improved well-being, and an increased understanding of democratic principles and citizenship (Evaluation of Unicef's Rights Respecting Schools award, PDF).

With uncertain times ahead, every effort should be made to see that children’s rights aren’t weakened as a result of the UK’s exit from the EU. All negotiations and subsequent law and policy should be made with proper regard for children’s rights under the UNCRC. Child rights education is an important step in cementing the rights of children and enabling them to become active citizens in this changing world. 

About Unicef

Unicef UK works hard to promote children’s rights in schools across the UK. The Rights Respecting Schools Award embeds children’s rights in daily school life and gives children the best chance to lead happy, healthy lives and to be responsible, active citizens.

Or, if you are a teacher in Scotland, you can sign up to our award-winning free online resource, Child Rights Launchpad, which allows you to explore 42 articles of the UNCRC.