CHILDREN in Scotland should be given the right to withdraw from religious worship in schools without their parents consent, according to the United Nations.

A report published by the UN committee for the rights of the child flagged up issues over religious assemblies in schools in the UK, noting that children in Scotland do not have the right to withdraw from collective worship without parental permission and recommended this is changed.

The move has been welcomed by secular campaigners who renewed calls for a review of religious observance in schools in Scotland.

Gordon MacRae, chief executive of Humanist Society Scotland (HSS), said: “Whilst we would like to see religious observance scrapped and replaced with a more inclusive alternative, such as philosophy with children, we have called for updated guidance on numerous occasions to ensure that the situation in Scotland is compatible with the law.”

The UN report makes nearly 100 observations or recommendations relating to children’s rights in the UK, in areas ranging from education to mental health provision. However it cannot compel governments to change legislation.

On the subject of freedom of thought, conscience and religion, it notes that in Scotland and Northern Ireland, children do not have the right to withdraw from collective worship without parental permission.

It adds that it recommends governments ensure that “children can independently exercise the right to withdraw from religious worship at school.”

Since 2005, Scottish schools have been required to make parents aware they can remove their children from religious education and observance. No independent right of withdrawal is available to pupils.

MacRae also pointed to reports published last year which also suggested reforms around religious observance in schools were required.

"It is now clear that the Scottish Government's policy on religious observance flies in the face of the recommendations of several high-profile academic reports, the views and wishes of many stakeholders and now a high-level report from the United Nations,” he said.

Last year, the Commission on Religion and Belief in British Public Life said the current legal requirement for schools to hold acts of collective worship should be repealed and replaced by a requirement to hold "inclusive times for reflection".

Similar calls were made in a report by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC), which recommended that the term ‘religious observance’ be formally changed to ‘time for reflection’ in order to be more inclusive.

Dr Claire Cassidy, senior lecturer in education at Stirling University, who was part of the AHRC steering group and is a supporter of a campaign by HSS calling for “more inclusive” education, also backed the findings of the UN committee.

She said: “I would urge the Scottish Government to act upon these recommendations. In doing so, this will take further the positive work already undertaken in Scotland to support children's rights in law, policy and practice."

A spokeswoman for the Scottish Government said: “Religious and moral education remains one of the eight core areas within Curriculum for Excellence.

“It gives pupils opportunities to explore, discuss and debate and, more importantly, understand wider beliefs and values and how they are fundamental in both local and global communities.”