Belfast Telegraph

Law urged to back children's rights

Children in Northern Ireland would be among the most protected in the world if their rights were incorporated into law, it was claimed today.

Adoption and family court proceedings must put the interests of young people first and bespoke mental health care should be the norm, the Children's Commission has said.

The Department of Health has launched a consultation on paediatric services including recommendations consistent with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

But the international agreement has still not been included in domestic law and the children's advocate called for its special measures to be enshrined in Northern Ireland.

Commissioner Patricia Lewsley-Mooney said: "We need to ensure that awareness of the convention grows so everyone realises it will benefit their children, their grandchildren, their nieces, their nephews and their neighbour's children."

Some rights contained in the convention are already partially covered by other laws or customs, including giving parents help with childcare such as after school clubs, the entitlement to education, nationality and the use of your own language.

The commissioner would like to see children's views and their best interests taken into account during family proceedings in court or during adoptions, arguing the debate and legal challenges on adoptions by same-sex couples has surrounded adults' views, not children's.

Many sexual health clinics only open during school hours, making it difficult for teenagers to attend. Some young people were treated on adult mental health wards of hospitals, when often the best care would involve separate services and a purpose-built hospital, a health regulator has said.

Large sums of money are spent on tackling adult mental health issues when many problems begin through childhood trauma such as divorcing parents.

European regulations surrounding the provision of goods and services will prevent discrimination against adults but not children.

Ms Lewsley-Mooney, the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, will tell a Belfast conference on Wednesday: "What we have to bear in mind is that the convention is not legally enforceable in domestic legislation and it is our aim to ensure children's rights are protected in such legislation.

"Then we will have achieved something remarkable.

"We will stand on a par with states across the world, and indeed with our colleagues in Scotland and Wales, who have taken steps towards the UNCRC being a living commitment to every child and every young person."

The commissioner said significant progress had already been made helping children realise their rights, raising awareness of children's rights and advising government on how to protect the rights of children and young people in Northern Ireland.

"However, now is the time for the Executive to demonstrate their determination to make Northern Ireland the best place for children and young people to live by incorporating the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into law," she added.

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