Personally SPEAKING; Today at an NSPCC Conference Local Political Parties Will Be Asked to Look at the Rights of Children. SDLP MLA PATRICIA LEWSLEY Urges Her Colleagues at Stormont to Listen

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Byline: PATRICIA LEWSLEY

It is time to put to bed the old adage that children should be seen and not heard. It is time to ensure that their voices are heard. The SDLP has long campaigned for children's voices to be heard and their rights to be put centre stage.

Our children and young people need to be able to play their part in society. They need to be listened to. They need to be able to access skills and support, in order to develop as active citizens. The SDLP have worked, for many years, to enhance the rights of children and we welcome the work carried out by organisations such as Barnardo's, the Child Poverty Action group and NSPCC. Further, we welcome the blueprint for government on children's issues, which these organisations have presented to political parties this week.

The SDLP does not accept that there can be a compromise, or two - tier system, where the rights of children and young people are concerned. The SDLP is committed to the principle that, regardless of the wealth of the family, all children must be guaranteed a good minimum standard of living, and given the best possible education, health care and opportunities to develop their potential.

The SDLP has campaigned vigorously for the establishment of a Commissioner for Children. The Commissioner should be independent of Government and have a broad mandate to protect children's issues, and make them more visible in government policy structures.

Children are vulnerable and there is clearly a need for an independent agency to monitor, protect and promote their rights proactively. Sadly, children's views are often not respected and there are problems in accessing the legal system to assert their rights. The role of the Commissioner should be as an independent body, representing children's rights with clearly defined powers and duties. It should act as a watchdog and have responsibility to advise government, to submit recommendations and proposals on future legislation, data collection and the production of reports. …