The Children’s Law Centre (CLC) has expressed its deep concern at today’s announcement by the Junior Ministers, Jennifer McCann MLA and Jonathan Bell MLA to bring forward legislation to protect against discrimination in accessing goods, facilities and services (GFS) which will exclude children and young people under the age of 16.
Paddy Kelly, CLC’s Director said,
“Children and young people are the most vulnerable group in society and have the right to be treated fairly and to have equal access to goods, facilities and services, regardless of their age. The proposed introduction of legislation to protect against age discrimination in accessing GFS which excludes under 16s is a missed opportunity to protect children and will entrench a hierarchy of inequalities, with children and young people at the bottom. Research commissioned by Age NI and the Age Sector Platform shows significant public support for age discrimination protections for people of all ages with 92% of people agreeing that the legislation should include everyone. CLC cannot understand why government would not want to take all possible steps it can to protect children”
Children and young people are already protected from discrimination when accessing goods, facilities and services in Northern Ireland on a number of grounds including sex, sexual orientation, religious belief or political opinion, race and disability and CLC does not believe that there is any justification for the exclusion of under 16s from the scope of age discrimination legislation. The proposed exclusion of under 16s from the Age Discrimination GFS legislation will result in the introduction of age discrimination legislation which in itself discriminates on the basis of age.
Drawing on CLC’s extensive experience of working with parents and children Paddy Kelly highlighted the need for children to be protected from age discrimination in accessing GFS and stated,
“The proposed legislation would prohibit age discrimination for example in the provision of health and social care services, retail services or public transport. Areas of unequal treatment currently suffered by children include children being unable to access vital education support services which are restricted to certain age groups and difficulties in accessing age appropriate health services, such as mental health services as well as the underfunding of children’s services by Government. It is CLC’s experience that children and their parents who we work with and for would welcome and greatly benefit from protection in accessing GFS on the basis of age.”
Legislation to protect children from suffering age discrimination in accessing GFS exists and operates successfully in other countries including Australia, Belgium and Canada. CLC wants our Government to protect children from discrimination by extending the legislation to all ages.