Young people share their concerns at Child Summit in Ireland
“Children have a lot to teach adults” – wise words from a young contributor to Ireland’s first Child Summit which took place in Dublin on 8 September 2016.
The purpose of the summit was to look at recommendations to Ireland from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. Some of these are based on concerns raised by children themselves. A group of children and teenagers expressed their views in a submission on children’s rights to the UN called Picture Your Rights (1). It consists of photographs taken by children and teenagers capturing particular concerns, including stress, bullying, play, discrimination and body image.
Although, in general, children and young people in Ireland are happy with their lives, they are very worried about certain problems such as the high levels of poverty and homelessness. Children living in emergency accommodation don’t have proper places to play, nor can they bring friends home to play with. According to one of the contributors, “the right to play is one of the most pressing issues”.
The summit gave the young people a chance to respond to the UN’s recommendations and they raised a number of very important issues. They were unhappy with the fact that the recommendations are called ‘concluding observations’. They said this somehow suggested the process was completed, when in fact for young people the process, “should be considered on-going and urgent”.
They believe they have a very important role to play in this on-going process saying; “we want to continue to be involved. Implementation is important and we want to help you to do it in a way that’s best for us”.
Young people, rightly, believe their contribution to improving children’s rights in Ireland is crucial. They are experts in particular areas which adults don’t always fully understand. One such issue is the high level of stress and anxiety they feel at school. At the moment their education is too focussed on exams and scoring high points for university entry. The young people at the conference said this is a key area that needs to change. If it is to meet their needs, they must be given a voice in how the system is reformed, they said.
The head of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs welcomed the young people’s input and encouraged them to “help us, call us to account; sometimes in a difficult way but that’s as it should be”. He acknowledged that sometimes governments only meet their obligations when they are pushed. But he made a commitment to remain focussed on children’s rights. “We need to keep up the momentum”, he said, “because children’s welfare is at stake”.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has proposed that Ireland develop an ‘action plan’ on how to implement their recommendations. Hopefully we will see such a plan take shape soon, and children will have a chance to contribute.
Author: Jackie Bourke
Photo Credit: Child Summit