Belfast Telegraph

Children unfairly excluded from age discrimination laws, commission finds

The Executive Office breached equality commitments during a consultation into proposals to extend age discrimination laws, an investigation found.

It proposed to exclude children aged under 16 from age discrimination protections without providing evidence as to why, the Children's Commissioner said.

The commissioner complained to the Equality Commission, which launched an investigation.

The Equality Commission said: "An investigation by the Equality Commission has found that The Executive Office (TEO, formerly OFMDFM), breached commitments in its equality scheme in 2015 when conducting a consultation into proposals to extend age discrimination legislation to include the provision of goods, facilities and services."

A young person-friendly guide and other information provided to children as part of the consultation had limitations, the Equality Commission added.

In 2015, the then Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister (OFMDFM) had produced policy proposals to extend legal protection against discrimination on grounds of age to cover the provision of goods, facilities and services.

Legislation would apply only to those over the age of 16 and children and young people under that age would not be included.

The department consulted upon these proposals from July to October 2015.

While official and voluntary groups representing children and young people were included in the consultation, the report said it was "deficient" in seeking the views of youngsters themselves.

The investigation highlighted:

:: an adult-focused method of advising of the consultation, such as newspaper advertisements and the social media sites of the Northern Ireland Executive, as opposed to through schools and youth groups.;

:: an adult-orientated method of carrying out the consultation, such as meetings and roundtables instead of specialist engagement to obtain children's views;

:: limitations in the young person-friendly guide in terms of language, style and content of the examples used;

:: problems with the information provided to children and young people to ensure meaningful consultation including detail and evidence on the policy proposal.

The commission conducted the investigation following the complaint received from the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY).

Children's commissioner Koulla Yiasouma said: "Government departments cannot pick and choose who has access to equality.

"Ignoring robust and considered advice, the Executive Office proposed to exclude children under the age of 16 from age discrimination protections without providing evidence as to why."

She said it was particularly concerning given that at the time this was the lead department for equality and children and young people's issues.

Equality Commission chief commissioner Michael Wardlow added: "This investigation highlights the importance of public bodies ensuring that consultation arrangements are meaningful and seeks the views of all those directly affected, including children and young people in this instance, as committed to under equality schemes."

A spokesperson for The Executive Office said it would "give the Equality Commission's report due consideration".

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