Blog: Let Our Voices Be Heard As A Ray Of Hope

01 May 2024

In our latest blog, Ihab Maajal, who travelled to Geneva as a youth advocate for Include Youth, writes about his experience of travelling to the United Nations and his pride in winning a Care Day Award. He also sends a positive message to young people everywhere about the power of young people’s activism.

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Ihab Maajal writes:

In the bustling city of Geneva, amidst the corridors of global diplomacy, a pivotal event unfolded – one that resonated deeply with the essence of empowerment and advocacy. Representing Northern Ireland at the United Nations, our team from Include Youth embarked on a transformative journey, championing the rights and aspirations of young people on a UK platform.

A wide range of feelings, including hope, determination, and a deep sense of responsibility, flowed through us as the curtains came down on this historic event. The UN provided a crucial forum for discussing the urgent problems facing today’s youth. This ranged from systemic obstacles impeding their advancement to socioeconomic constraints. Our constant faith in the strength of young voices kept us moving forward and inspired us to work towards real change and acknowledgment.

Our actions are based on a fundamental principle that is sometimes overlooked in the bustle of administrative procedures and policy talks – young people are living people who should be treated with respect and given opportunity. They are not just statistics or paperwork. Throughout all our interventions, this central message resonated, reflecting the feelings of innumerable young people whose voices were ignored for far too long.

Central to our discourse was the critical shortage of skilled professionals within the social work sector, an issue that strikes at the very foundation of youth support systems. Through meticulous research and first hand experiences, we highlighted the glaring gaps in expertise and resources, underscoring the urgent need for comprehensive reforms. By shedding light on this overlooked aspect, we aimed to instigate meaningful dialogue and policy reforms that prioritise the holistic wellbeing of young people.

Getting the Care Day Award was more than just confirmation of our work – it was a symbol of the tenacity and will of all the young people whose hardships and victories we wanted to highlight. Amid the cheers and recognition, at that moment of victory, we experienced a deep sense of humility and thankfulness, realising that our combined efforts may spark change, one discussion at a time.

Let our voices be heard as a ray of hope in the halls of power and decision making, bearing witness to the unwavering spirit of young people’s activism and inclusion. Together, we will keep working towards our goals, speaking up for the under represented, and amplifying their voices until all young people’s aspirations come true and every challenge is conquered.

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Children Across the Island of Ireland Give Their Views on Brexit

25 April 2024

A new report titled Listen Up! Children’s Voices on the Future reveals how children and young people across the island of Ireland feel about the uncertainty surrounding Brexit and how they can participate in decisions affecting their lives, their community and wider society.

The research was commissioned by the Children’s Law Centre and Children’s Rights Alliance and involved consultations with children and young people from a range of backgrounds across both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland.

Alongside Listen Up!, a detailed legal analysis on The Post-Brexit Legal Framework was be published. This research was carried out by Professor Helen Stalford and Professor Michael Dougan from the University of Liverpool and highlights the implications of the Framework for Children’s Rights on the Island of Ireland.

Key Findings of the Listen Up! report

  • Participants unanimously agreed that the decision to leave the EU was ‘not a good thing’.
  • Young people had contrasting perceptions on the peace and stability of Northern Ireland post- Brexit. For many young people living in Ireland there was an underlying apprehension that Brexit would be a catalyst for a return to conflict in Northern Ireland. Participants in Northern Ireland thought it unlikely that things would get worse, however, they were aware of a range of negative effects such as receiving goods, paramilitary activity, and general political unrest.
  • The view that racist attitudes were increasingly noticeable and, with many families no longer feeling able to stay in the UK post-Brexit. These views were also reflected in the young people’s experiences of not feeling wanted and navigating language and cultural barriers.
  • Some young people voiced their feelings on what it means to be Irish and the role of the Irish Language as a strong feature of Irish identity. Many feared the loss of the language and expressed a need for more opportunities for immersive learning.

Speaking on the launch of the report, Fergal McFerran, Policy and Public Affairs Manager, Children’s Law Centre said:

“The young people highlighted in the report are very clear in their understanding of all of the big challenges facing us locally, regionally and globally.

“In relation to Brexit, many of the young people highlighted their concerns around heightened tensions, xenophobia and deteriorating community relations as a result of Brexit. They also articulated a sense of frustration at the way in which the media and politicians characterised post Brexit arrangements.

“The key takeaway is that the young people have clear views and many felt the impact of Brexit, yet they weren’t consulted on it. Major decisions like this cannot be taken without asking children and young people for their views.”

It is clear that children are not blind to the moral questions surrounding the big-ticket social issues that affect their lives in the here and now, and the research signals the need for children’s views to be given further consideration as we look to the future of children’s rights on the island of Ireland.

Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance added:

“The research also demonstrates how bigger social and political issues permeate through all levels of society. We hear from very young children who are aware of the wider global narrative and are very conscious of the experiences of their friends and their community. Yet, children and many young people did not get the opportunity to vote in a decision that immediately and irrefutably changed their lives. While we may be through the critical negotiations, governments in both jurisdictions have a long road ahead navigating the impact of Brexit. It is essential that young people are given the opportunity to shape it as the next generation who will need to carry this responsibility.”

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Blog: From Youth@CLC to the UN and Beyond

21 February 2024

In our first in a new series of blog posts, Youth@CLC member, Ruby Campbell, outlines some of the highlights from her time as a youth panel member, her determination as a change maker and her latest role as a member on UNICEF’s UK Youth Advisory Board.

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Ruby Campbell writes:

I joined Youth@CLC in December 2022 and, looking back, it has completely transformed my life.

Youth@CLC is the youth advisory group at the Children’s Law Centre and it has provided me with an incredible opportunity to become educated on my rights and how to defend the rights of those around me. From actual information sessions to group meetings and events, Youth@CLC instantly made me feel included and simultaneously powerful.

I had a voice and could use it in front of politicians and other stakeholders to enact change in how young people are perceived and treated.

From meetings with the Department of Education, All-Party Group meetings and events with other youth organisations, opportunities to express myself and be listened to have been many.

The most exciting and meaningful experience was attending the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva, in May 2023, during an examination of the UK Government and NI Executive’s obligations to protect the rights of children and young people.

A few weeks earlier, the NI Secretary of State introduced the 2023/24 budget, which resulted in massive cuts to services that support the most disadvantaged children and young people, such as youth spending on mental health support and education. I was horrified at this and the wider impact it would have on mental health, as well as children living in poverty.

Schemes like the Extended Schools Programme that provided crucial childcare and food to children was to be scrapped. Children who, in the midst of our crushing cost of living crisis, were coming to school hungry, would be impacted.

Youth@CLC gave me an opportunity to take this injustice to the highest level – the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Last year a panel of young people representing the UK were permitted to speak directly to the Committee on their experience. I was one of these young people and I told the Committee about the devastating impact the budget was bound to have, and the struggle of children and young people living in acute poverty across Northern Ireland. This remains the proudest moment of my life and an example of what can happen if youth voice is allowed a space in the conversation.

Among the Committee’s concluding observations was “withdraw the budget for Northern Ireland for the period 2023-2024.” It doesn’t get any more clear than that.

But my journey with Youth@CLC didn’t stop there. There were follow up events and meetings to make young people aware of the concluding observations, to get feedback and address directly the politicians that ultimately deliver Rights Here, Right Now for young people and children across Northern Ireland.

Youth@CLC allowed me to address politicians at Stormont, to address my peers and sparked in me a determination to see change.

At the next UK examination, a young person from Northern Ireland should not have to go to the Committee and tell them their rights are not just being threatened, but actively rolled back on.

Recently, after being made aware of the opportunity through the Children’s Law Centre, I became a member of UNICEF UK’s Youth Advisory Board, the first and only member to have come from Northern Ireland.

I am so very proud that today I can be a voice on the rights of children in Northern Ireland at a national level.

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Children’s Law Centre Says: “Punishment Budget Must Never Happen Again”

22 January 2024

A legal challenge, taken by the Children’s Law Centre relating to the Secretary of State’s 2023/24 budget will be heard in Belfast’s High Court on Monday 22 January for a leave hearing.

Speaking ahead of the hearing, and in advance of the next budget setting process, the Centre’s Policy and Public Affairs Manager has warned that a repeat of the 2023/24 so called punishment budget cannot happen again.

Fergal McFerran, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the Children’s Law Centre, said:

“The impact of the Secretary of State’s punishment budget was plain for everyone to see. The Children’s Law Centre, along with a wide range of other voices, consistently warned about the impact it would have on children and young people, particularly those who are most disadvantaged.

“Ourselves, the wider voluntary and community sector and even the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child repeatedly called on the Secretary of State to rethink the 2023/24 budget and protect children from harm. Unfortunately, those concerns were ignored and we were left with no option but to take legal action.

“We are taking this challenge to ensure children and young people are protected from harm when budget decisions are being made. We must ensure the legal process for doing that is followed, regardless of who sets the budget.

“We are now facing the prospect of another grim budget setting process. We want to be as clear as possible – a repeat of the so called punishment budget must never happen again.”

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Solution to the Political Crisis Must be Found ‘Without Further Delay’

21 November 2023

Mr Bragi Guðbrandsson, Vice Chairperson of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has highlighted the need for the restoration of the Northern Ireland Executive ‘without further delay’. Mr Guðbrandsson addressed the lack of local decision making when delivering the Children’s Law Centre Annual Lecture 2023 at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast.

The lecture covered a number of key areas where children and young people’s rights are not being fulfilled. This included relationship and sexuality education (RSE), uses of force on children, restraint and seclusion, the treatment of refugee and asylum seeking children, academic selection, the age of criminal responsibility, child abuse, child sexual exploitation and child poverty.

Watch a live recording of the lecture

Download a copy of Mr Guðbrandsson’s lecture

Mr Guðbrandsson also repeatedly referenced the 2023/24 budget for Northern Ireland.

During the lecture, Mr Guðbrandsson said:

“The lack of progress in legislation being brought forward and delays implementing existing legislation and strategies to improve children’s lives in Northern Ireland require a solution to the political crisis in Northern Ireland without further delay.”

Mr Guðbrandsson referenced the committee’s recommendation on the 2023/24 budget for Northern Ireland a number of times during the lecture, saying:

“To my knowledge, no steps have been taken in Westminster to revise, yet alone withdraw the budget for Northern Ireland or to take any serious steps to mitigate any adverse impact on the most vulnerable children.”

He continued by reflecting on the current context facing children and young people:

“Alarming rates of child poverty, a profoundly difficult economic context, lack of financial support to meet the true cost of living, the complexity of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic still not fully known – all compounded by a budget which failed to give any hope of meaningful intervention.”

Mr Guðbrandsson concluded his lecture by repeating the need for the restoration of local decision making:

“While there has no doubt been progress in some areas, we have regrettably concluded that a vast number of children are being let down because of the continued failure to implement key measures and protections as laid out in the UNCRC.

“At the risk of some you may find I am using too strong words, I have argued that children and young people in NI are facing crisis in terms of lack of progress and even push-backs in crucial clusters of rights embodied in the UNCRC. I have repeatedly said in my speech that the prerequisite for overcoming the hindrances I believe that as a matter of urgency… Northern Ireland needs to regain its executive and legislative power”.

The Children’s Law Centre Annual Lecture 2023 will took place at on Tuesday 21 November, at The Inn of Court, Old Bar Library, Royal Courts of Justice, Belfast.

Watch a live recording of the lecture

Download a copy of Mr Guðbrandsson’s lecture

Key issues raised include:

  • Lack of NI Executive
  • Brexit
  • Academic selection
  • Relationship and Sexuality Education (RSE)
  • Lowering the voting age to 16
  • Uses of force on children, including strip searches, spit and bite hoods and stop and searches
  • Corporal punishment
  • Child friendly and multiagency response to child sexual abuse
  • Implementation of recommendations from the Gillen Review
  • Lack of a childcare strategy
  • Restraint and seclusion
  • Child and Adolescent Mental Health
  • Child poverty
  • Refugee and asylum seeking children
  • The minimum age of criminal responsibility
  • The environment

The committee’s concluding observation on the 2023/24 budget reads: “Withdraw the budget for Northern Ireland for the period 2023–2024 and fully consider the equality and human rights implications for a new budget, taking all possible steps to mitigate any adverse impact on children’s rights before issuing a revised budget.”

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