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Improving health
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At Christmas we try to create an atmosphere of happiness and love, especially for our children. Yet this isn’t always possible – it’s a time where financial pressure can bear heavily on families, as well as put strain on relationships by spending more time together in the holidays than we would normally do in our busy lives. But for us at NHS Health Scotland it’s a good a time to talk about the importance of children’s rights to be embedded into daily life – at all times of the year.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world…. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

This important quote by Eleanor Roosevelt is often used to bring to life the complex and legal terms which human rights is embedded in. I often go back to it and it seems particularly fitting to revisit it as we reflect on the 30th anniversary of the UNCRC. To have equal justice, equal opportunity and equal dignity, these powerful words need to have meaning in the daily lives of children and families. The Scottish Government’s commitment to incorporate the UNCRC into Scots law in the new year has the potential to do just that. We welcome this development.

My own light bulb moment around human rights was a number of years ago. I was involved in health inequalities impact assessment as a way to bring attention to the often marginalised groups in society who experience poorer health. I started to look into human rights impact assessment, and worked with colleagues in the Scottish Human Rights Commission (SHRC) to see how we could better incorporate human rights into our work to make a real difference to people’s lives. Speaking recently at a Parenting Across Scotland seminar on a rights-based approach to family support, Chair of the SHRC Judith Robertson spoke about how human rights can support families – but only if people know about their rights and how to claim them. Again it’s about making it meaningful. There has been great work going on in schools across Scotland to talk about children’s rights. Incorporating the UNCRC into domestic law in Scotland provides us with the opportunity to also talk to parents and carers about the UNCRC and how it can support them to give their children the best start in life. Parents/carers should consider what is best for the child but governments also must support parents by giving them the help they need to raise their children.

Children’s rights are based on what they need to survive and flourish, such as clean water, good healthcare, protection from abuse and the chance to go to school. A Scotland where we flourish in our early years is one of the six Public Health Priorities for Scotland. These priorities set out what we all need to focus on and work together on to address health inequalities in Scotland and improve people’s lives. Like human rights, we need to make these public health priorities meaningful not only for those working in public health, local authorities, government and the voluntary sector, but also to our communities: ‘small places, close to home’.

Experiencing early adversity can get in the way of children and young people realising their rights, including as adults the right to the highest attainable standard of health. Governments must do all they can to ensure that children are protected from all forms of violence, abuse, neglect and poor treatment. We cannot see children and families in isolation from the factors which are impacting on their lives and which are out with their direct control, such as the housing market, welfare reform, societal attitudes to women and girls. That is why we are working with a range of partners, including Scottish Government, to take a public health approach to childhood adversity and to violence prevention.

We have recently submitted details of the progress made on our pledge to make Scotland a fairer country, as part of the Scottish Government’s Fairer Action Plan. The increased understanding and activity across Scotland about childhood adversity, rising rates and impacts of child poverty, and trauma are all hopefully taking us in the direction of making rights meaningful in the day to day lives of children and families.

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