SCOTS ministers have rejected calls by the nation's Children and Young People's Commissioner to pause a controversial government census that asks school kids if they’ve had anal sex over human rights concerns.

Bruce Adamson echoed concerns that the Health and Wellbeing Census, which asks young adults about their experience of drug use, alcohol consumption and sex, did not respect a pupil’s right to privacy.

His comments come after the Herald and the Herald on Sunday revealed that eight local authorities were refusing to take part in the census and that privacy details showed that the anonymous survey was not actually confidential at all.

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He said: “Any survey conducted in schools needs to be administered using an approach that respects young people’s rights including their right to privacy and right to give informed consent.

"We are concerned that the survey collects the pupil’s Scottish Candidate Number and young people need to be made aware that this may allow them to be identified.

“Young people should have their rights clearly communicated to them in advance, including the key information that their participation is not compulsory. Young people and their families need to be involved in the design and delivery of such information gathering.

"It is important that teachers know how to manage any issues that may arise as a result of wellbeing questions being asked in school.

“A number of local authorities have also raised concerns which calls into question the effectiveness of this method of processing the survey. The Scottish Government should pause the rolling out of this survey until it can address the concerns raised and ensure a rights compliant process.”

But a Scottish Government spokesman said it would be "irresponsible to withdraw a census which focusses on children and young people’s health and wellbeing, particularly during the course of a pandemic".

The spokesman said: “Health and wellbeing surveys like this one are not new and play a crucial role in ensuring children and young people have access to the help, advice and services they need.

“We are in regular dialogue with the local authorities, and monitoring progress."

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They said they believed that 24 local authorities are taking part with eight not taking part.

The First Minister on Thursday refused to say whether she would answer a controversial school pupils' census where children are asked "intrusive" questions about sex.

Parents have raised questions about the content of the government's Health and Wellbeing Census, which asks pupils as young as 14 intimate questions on their sexual activity.

While eight of Scotland's 32 local authorities have refused to take part in the census a further 13 are reviewing its contents and another one, City of Edinburgh Council, is distributing it excluding questions "that we felt would present difficulties".

The Scottish Government-sanctioned census asks questions only meant to be filled out by children as young as 14 about their sexual experiences.


One question - aimed at pupils in S4 and S6 - says: “People have varying degrees of sexual experience. How much, if any, sexual experience have you had?”

Multiple choice answers include “oral sex” and “vaginal or anal sex”.

It also asks how many people they have had sexual intercourse with in the past 12 months.

Meghan Gallacher, the Scottish Conservative children’s spokeswoman, asked the First Minister on Thursday whether she would be comfortable answering the questions posed in the survey, while raising issues that the anonymous census was not strictly confidential at all.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Well firstly on the issue of confidentiality the questionnaires have been specially designed so that the information provided by children and young people is used for statistical and research purposes only and that ensures that any results of the research or resulting statistics will not be made available in a form which identifies individual children and young people."

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The Herald on Sunday revealed that only the census is not totally confidential.

If local authority analysts see any answers of concern they can take action to help kids concerned and the identity of the children will be sought.

Privacy information attached states: "If analysts within your local authority see anything in the answers provided by some children and young people that raises some concerns, they may need to do something to help these individuals.

"This would be the only time that the identity of individual children and young people would be sought by identifying these individuals from a separate database that holds the names of children and young people together with their Scottish Candidate Number, and for which the local authority also has access too.

"This should not happen very often so it is highly unlikely that anyone will contact children, young people or their families."

The census is to be given to kids in P5, 6 and 7 but the younger groups' questions are targeted on matters such as physical activity, mental health, sleep patterns, social media, body image, and bullying. It also quizzes them on how easy it is to talk to family members about things that bother them and whether their parents really care about their education.


Ms Sturgeon went on: "This is a voluntary survey it is only for as for S4 secondary, year four and upwards. Any parent can refuse to give consent and of course, any young person can opt not to take part in the survey or to skip particular questions in the survey. It is not mandatory.

"But I come back to the fundamental point. We cannnot choose to pretend that young people of this age group do not have it the experiences that the member has narrated or is not exposed online, in the digital world we live in and we can choose to pretend that young people, girls, sometimes in particular, are not subjected to harassment and pressure around sexual matters.

"We can refuse to ask the questions so that we don't know the answers, or we can get the answers that then allows us to better support young people to provide the advice and the information and the guidance to young people that supports and enables them to make positive healthy choices for the future. I do choose the latter and I would ask the Conservatives seriously and others, yes, to engage in any legitimate concerns around these matters.

"But don't whip up concern on the part of parents for completely unnecessary reasons and let us all focus on what really matters, supporting our young people to make healthy choices in their own lives."

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The eight councils that have refused to participate are West Lothian Council, Falkirk, East Lothian, Midlothian, Aberdeenshire, North Lanarkshire, Aberdeen and Highland.

The 13 councils that have said they are reviewing its content are Orkney, East Dunbartonshire, East Renfrewshire, West Dunbartonshire, Argyll and Bute, South Lanarkshire, East Ayrshire, Shetland, Fife, Inverclyde, North Ayrshire, Scottish Borders, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar.

The ten local authorities that are distributing the census are Glasgow City, Perth and Kinross, Stirling, Angus, South Ayrshire, Moray, Clackmannanshire, Dundee, Dumfries and Galloway and Renfrewshire.

City of Edinburgh Council is distributing it having excluded questions "that we felt would present difficulties".

The Scottish Government added:  “Health and wellbeing surveys like this one are not new and play a crucial role in ensuring children and young people have access to the help, advice and services they need.

"They comply with UK GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation], as part of process of informing parents/carers and children and young people in deciding if they wish to take part in the census. The census documentation, and the questionnaires themselves, are explicit about this.

“As with any situation involving children and young people, if welfare concerns, such as abuse or harm to young people, are identified, local authorities are permitted to share information in order to safeguard the young person.

“Scottish Government officials will continue to engage with the office of the Children's Commissioner on this issue.”