On International Day of Play, we must remember that not every child has the chance to do so

Today (11 June) is the International Day of Play – yet opportunities for play and access to facilities remains a real issue for many children.

While in an ideal world today would purely be a time to celebrate the benefits and the power of play, it is perhaps more important to highlight to the world why many young people are not able to exercise this most basic right.

It was March this year when the United Nations announced the inauguration of the new International Day of Play, starting this year.

This was the culmination of a huge global effort that was spearheaded by the Right to Play organisation and its various partners, with the aim of highlighting the importance of play in children’s lives, learning and development and, crucially, call attention to the need to protect the right to play.

‘Highlight the positive’

Right to Play has a global presence and is particularly active in Canada, Germany, The Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, the United States, and the United Kingdom. National bodies representing and campaigning for the rights of children are also using today to amplify their messages, and nowhere more so than in Northern Ireland, thanks to the work of Playboard NI.

Its CEO, Alan Herron, said, “This is a significant moment for children and young people around the world. The child’s right to play is enshrined within the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child; by designating 11 June as International Day of Play, the UN has placed a much-needed focus on this critical part of children and young people’s lives.”

But Playboard has a very serious message – which is that half of children in Northern Ireland are saying that they simply do not have enough time for play, or that many have difficulty accessing play because of problems like increased traffic.

Playboard NI says that it is issues like this that are standing in the way of children and young people enjoying their free time. This is made all the more concerning when you consider that the overwhelming majority of youngsters that Playboard NI spoke with for a survey (84 per cent) said – perhaps not surprisingly – that play makes them happy.

Today’s day of action, says Playboard, is ‘an opportunity to highlight the positive impact of play on children and young people’s lives, whilst calling upon governments to protect, promote and prioritise opportunities for play’.

For its part, Playboard NI is holding an information session for members of the Northern Ireland Assembly (MLAs), the aim of which is to educate and highlight how the Assembly, through its policy making functions, can best deliver improved play opportunities for all children and young people. Elsewhere in the UK, other leading bodies, namely Play Wales, Play Scotland and Play England, are all running their own initiatives to promote International Day of Play.

‘Protect, promote and prioritise opportunities’

Alan Herron continued: “In its most recent concluding observation, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child identified a number of key actions for the Northern Ireland Assembly. These included the development of a resourced Play Strategy aimed at increasing play opportunities, greater integration of play within school curricula, increasing access to inclusive play for children with disabilities, and providing safer spaces for play in communities.

“PlayBoard’s survey has highlighted the need for action in order to improve access and opportunities for developmentally critical play opportunities. On the International Day of Play, alongside the International Play Association NI, we are calling for wider recognition of the importance of play in children and young people’s lives as well as a commitment to delivering improved play opportunities. The development of a dedicated Play Strategy is a critical step in this process and we strongly urge our political representatives to show leadership on this issue.”

Click here for more on Playboard NI’s work.

Author: Simon Weedy

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