The commissioner said that young people caught up in sectarian strife has become all too common sight on Belfast’s streets.
“We have become too used to seeing children involved in and suffering from the street violence we witness on our television screens and on the pages of our newspapers,” said Mr Williams.
“Children and young people must not be allowed to be exposed to such vicious scenes, they must not be allowed to be hurt, they must not be allowed to become involved and they must not be allowed to become pawns in whatever sick games paramilitaries may be playing.”
The commissioner said that each summer when civil disturbances take place it is children and young people who suffer.
“We must remember that a child that witnesses such scenes, or a child whose home is attacked bears more than just physical scars – this is a psychological trauma that will colour their lives long into adulthood.”
Mr Williams commended the efforts of voluntary and community leaders to avert such violence, but said more needed to be done from statutory, voluntary and community organisations as well as politicians.
“Children, young people and their parents have told me of the lack of facilities, the lack of constructive direction in their lives outside school,” he said. “And they are then faced with two months off school, when lack of facilities and limited opportunities for play and leisure can lead to them undertaking risk-taking activities.”
Among the Commissioner’s 15 priorities for the coming two years include looking at how children have been and continue to be affected by the ‘Troubles’ and Play and Leisure provision.
Notes for Editors:
Further information on the work of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People can be found at www.niccy.org