21 October, 2009.

Before I begin I’d like to show you all a video made by a young person as part of our recent campaign.

This video is by Sam Madden.

[VIDEO PLAYS]

This short video illustrates the value to all our work when we listen and take on board the views of those who have first hand experience of how things are for them.

Therefore we must make sure we listen to what young people are telling us about play, leisure and things to do.  We cannot afford not to.  We cannot afford to create strategies and plans and ignore the people those strategies and plans are aimed at.

It is my role as Commissioner to make sure that these views are represented and included

Before going on to discuss Article 31 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically we should consider Article 12.

It reads:

States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

As most of you will know, last year we published our Review of Children’s Rights.

One of the key chapters in that review looked at ‘Leisure, Play and Culture’.  If you haven’t read it already I urge you to do so, particularly what young people say themselves.

 I’d like to read out what Article 31 says.

Firstly that States Parties recognise the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.

And secondly States Parties shall respect and promote the right of the child to participate fully in cultural and artistic life and shall encourage the provision of appropriate and equal opportunities for cultural, artistic, recreational and leisure activity.

That is as clear as it could be.  There is no doubt about what Article 31 is demanding that Government should do.

Like all other articles of the Convention, Article 31 should be interpreted in light of both the four general principles of the Convention and the other articles including Article 2 about equal access and, as mentioned earlier, Article 12 and the right of young people to have your say. 

Some may argue that Play is sometimes a frequently overlooked or trivialised right, but important not only in itself, but as you all know, also in terms of what the absence of this right means for other areas – health, interpersonal skills, civil rights.  And lack of play has an indirect affect; such as the demonization of young people and their lack of access to public space.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is unambiguous about both the benefits and necessity of play for all children and young people. 

In 2007 UNICEF said that taking part in play - both structured and unstructured - and in cultural life offers children and young people the opportunity to develop socially, physically, emotionally and intellectually.  It offers them the chance to enjoy and challenge their current capacities and facilitates development of key life skills such as cooperation, leadership negotiation and respectful interaction.

This was borne out when we carried out our Review of Children’s Rights.  It was the top issue of concern.  Up until the current impetus towards a Play Strategy it is fair to say that play was neglected at best and ignored at worst at a strategic level.

In the Rights review several areas of concern were identified.  These included:

·      Planning

·      Listening to children and young people

·      Making play age appropriate

·      Exclusion of young people from public spaces

·      Safety

·      Accessibility

·      Cost

·      Inconsistent policies and provision across Northern Ireland and

·      Concerns that some young people – particularly those with a disability, those trapped in poverty and young carers – have no access to play.

So, what are the implications of not providing play and leisure?

There are many, and we are witnessing those today.  Young people end up ‘hanging out’, with the wrong perception that they are “up to no good”: which, then feeds the increasing demonization of young people.

Lack of play is, of course linked to childhood obesity, poor fitness levels and if there no safe places to play either parents prevent their children from ‘going out’ or, the young people go to what could be described as ‘unsafe places’.

In total our review identified 10 priority action areas.  I’m not going to read them all out today, but I will highlight one issue – greater financial investment.  In these difficult financial times, it is always easy to call for more funding, but I believe that the benefits for the young people themselves and wider society are clear.  I know that everyone in this room will agree with that.

But we didn’t rest there.  We took the review on the road to help identify our future work.  Once again play emerged as the key issue for young people.  And their main area for concern was about safe places to play.

Before I conclude I want again to talk about the voices of young people.  I want to quote from what they told us in our Review of Children’s Rights.

“You get so bored you end up doing something stupid.”

That’s what one young person told us.  Why are we not addressing this boredom as a matter of urgency?

“There is nowhere to go.  You sit around the village and people come and tell you to move on.”

I wonder if those telling the young people to move on could suggest somewhere to move on too.  Imagine if you were told to move on, as an adult!

As Government moves forward on its Play Implementation Plan it is essential that these questions – among the many others – are answered.

It is essential that play and leisure is considered not as just another ‘request’ for a right.  Instead it must be seen as a fundamental right.

It is essential that whatever shape future plans, strategy and policies take, they are funded.

It is essential that there is clear accountability to make sure that there is monitoring so that the same plans actually happen.

And it is essential that there is a clear lead within Government to take responsibility for play and leisure.

The challenge for everyone in this room is to not just talk about Article 31, but to make its promises to our children and young people become reality.

A play strategy and real action was explicitly promised to children and young people in March 2006.  I know three of the young people who were there that day.  They were 15 and 16.  Three years later the promises must ring hollow for those young people now that they are adults.

I’ll leave you with the words of George Bernard Shaw.

“We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.”

Please make sure that no more children and young people have to stop playing before they grow old.

Thank you.