16/01/2003

NI Child Commissioner bill debated

Legislation, which could establish a commissioner for children in Northern Ireland, is currently being debated in the House of Commons.

The draft Order, which was laid before Parliament just before the Christmas Recess, is based on the Bill which had been under consideration by the Assembly before suspension. It is expected to become law next month and a commissioner is expected to be appointed during the summer.

The Minister responsible for the draft legislation, Des Browne, said: “The Commissioner for Children and Young People (NI) Order is a ground-breaking piece of legislation. It will establish an office whose main aim will be to safeguard and promote children’s rights and best interests, and will place Northern Ireland at the cutting edge of international best practice in this area.”

Northern Ireland's power-sharing executive announced plans for a children's commissioner in January 2001. At that time, Dermot Nesbitt alongside Denis Haughey as junior ministers at the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister, launched a consultation document inviting the views of the public on the issue.

Speaking today Mr Nesbitt said: “The commissioner’s role to promote and protect children's rights and ensure children have a voice in local government has been broadly welcomed in Northern Ireland but must be backed up with definitive guidelines to ensure the role is effective.

"While it is important that we have the right legislation and policies in place, children need more than just strong legislation on their side. They need a champion - a strong independent voice to protect their rights and represent their interests."

However DUP Health Spokesperson, Iris Robinson has argued the current bill’s remit is too narrow.

“The preamble to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child recognises children have rights before they are born,” she said.

“The Commissioner should also have responsibility for protecting children prior to their birth at the mother’s workplace for instance. The Commissioner could oversee this aspect as well as part of monitoring the general health of all children prior to their birth.”

(AMcE)

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