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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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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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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Vice Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child Visits NI for World Children’s Day

20 November 2023

Ahead of a visit to Belfast, Mr Bragi Guðbrandsson, Vice Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, has said children in Northern Ireland are facing crisis. Mr Guðbrandsson served as the UN Committee’s taskforce coordinator during the recent examination of the UK.

During his visit, Mr Guðbrandsson will meet children and young people, child rights experts and senior government officials, before delivering the Children’s Law Centre Annual Lecture 2023.

Speaking ahead of his visit, Mr Guðbrandsson said: “The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child completed extensive research over the past number of years to understand the challenges faced by children in Northern Ireland. 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 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“Decades of delay in implementing international best practice standards to protect and support children and young people has left them facing a huge number of challenges. In recent years, this has been made dramatically worse by the lack of local decision making and the recent Northern Ireland budget.

“Children and young people are facing crisis.”

Fergal McFerran, Policy and Public Affairs Manager at the Children’s Law Centre, said: “We are pleased to host Mr Guðbrandsson for World Children’s Day and to deliver our 2023 Annual Lecture. We are particularly pleased he will be meeting with the children and young people who presented evidence to the UN Committee in Geneva. As UN Committee’s taskforce coordinator for the UK’s recent examination he is well placed to advise on what needs to be done urgently in Northern Ireland to ensure we comply with our obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

“The message during Mr Guðbrandsson’s visit is crystal clear, our children are facing crisis. We need to see immediate action to start tackling the challenges and undoing the harm that is being caused. That work must start by addressing the immediate damage being done by budget cuts, then tackling the backlog of unaddressed issues over the past decade.”

Mr Guðbrandsson’s visit forms part of the Children’s Law Centre’s work to ensure decision makers in Northern Ireland implement the recommendations laid out by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. He will be engaged in a series of meetings with senior officials, key decision makers and duty bearers on Monday 20th and Tuesday 21st November. He will then deliver the Children’s Law Centre’s Annual Lecture 2023 at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast.

You can sign up for the livestream at https://www.tickettailor.com/events/childrenslawcentre/1042193
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Stormont Event Warns that NI Assembly Collapse is Harming a Generation of Children

24 October 2023

Key decision makers and politicians were warned, at an event organised by the Children’s Law Centre, that a generation of children and young people will be harmed unless a reformed Executive and Assembly delivers key children’s rights recommendations.

You can watch the full event on YouTube.

Delegates heard from leading children’s rights experts, as well as children and young people themselves, during a briefing event on the recent UN Committee on the Rights of the Child’s concluding observations and recommendations – a report previously described as “damning”.

The UN report raises concern around the treatment and protection of children and young people, as well as a long list of recommendations. These include a recommendation to withdraw the harmful 2023-24 budget for Northern Ireland.

Speaking at the event, Paddy Kelly, Director at the Children’s Law Centre said:

“There is a real and serious risk of long-term damage to our children and young people. The list of challenges facing them today is growing and becoming endless.

“There can be no doubt that decision makers are failing to look after their best interests. The proof is in the report from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and in the endless stream of cuts to children’s services.

“It is past time for change. A restored Assembly and Executive should be working to implement these recommendations but instead we are seeing decisions being made at Westminster that are compounding the problems.

“We need a return to local decision making, followed by urgent Executive action, before the long-term damage to our children and young people becomes even more severe.”

The event also heard from Dr Deena Haydon, an independent research and policy consultant, Chris Quinn, the new Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Fergal McFerran, Policy and Advocacy Manager at CLC, and Youth@CLC member Ruby Campbell. The event was attended by MLAs, leading departmental officials, the NI Children’s Commissioner, leading children’s charities and human rights organisations.

At the event, Ruby Campbell addressed delegates as a young rapporteur from the Rights Here, Right Now children and young people’s conference held in September.

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