20/12/2001

Children’s rights are priority says Durkan

Deputy First Minister, Mark Durkan has promised to protect children’s rights, meet children’s needs and include children’s voices.

Mr Durkan was speaking following a meeting with Mr Olara Otunnu, the United Nations Special Representative for Armed Conflict and Children. Mr Otunnu, who is on a three-day visit to Northern Ireland, was particularly interested in the work of the Executive with regard to children’s issues, victims and community relations.

The Deputy First Minister said: "The Northern Ireland Executive recognises the importance of protecting our children, and have identified children as a key priority area in our Programme for Government.

"As a visible sign of this commitment, we hope to have a Commissioner for Children in post next year. This unique appointment will help us meet our aim of putting Northern Ireland at the leading edge of best practice in children’s issues. We also plan to bring forward a 10-year strategy for children and young people, taking account of the role of parents and families.

"Through the Executive Programme Funds, we have recently established a Children’s Fund to look after the specific needs of young people. We are, however, making no allocations from the Children’s Fund until we have considered how best to involve the voluntary and community sectors in that Fund.

"We are also acutely aware that the current law in relation to the physical punishment of children in the home is inadequate and recently the Office of Law Reform launched a major consultation on this important issue. Children and young people themselves are being encouraged to take part in this consultation through initiatives such as a dedicated website at www.olrni.gov.uk/youngpeople/."

The Deputy First Minister also discussed with Mr Otunnu the work of the Executive in relation to victims and community relations. He outlined the work of the Senior Liasion Officer appointed by the Executive to facilitate dialogue between the communities in North Belfast and apprised Mr Otunnu on the North Belfast Community Action Project, which he and the First Minister recently launched. (MB)

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