MALTA: Launch of the Manifesto for Children

In view of the 2008 general elections, the Office of the Commissioner for Children undertook to prepare a Manifesto of Children’s Rights, in order to increase awareness amongst the political parties of matters requiring urgent attention with regards to children. The Manifesto for Children was based on principles laid out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, as ratified by Malta. Malta is thus committed to abide by the principles laid out in the Convention, and it is the duty and obligation of the Commissioner for Children to promote and advocate the rights and interests of Children as they are enshrined in the Convention.

The Commissioner for Children within society is intended to operate as a strong independent voice to speak up for the rights and needs of all children and young people. Children and young people, recognized as a vulnerable group in society, need someone who can advise and challenge the authorities when necessary – a watchdog and an engine for change; someone outside of the government to assist in the joining up of policy across existing government departments and statutory agencies. The Commissioner for Children Act clearly states in this respect that one of the functions of the Commissioner shall be “to seek to ensure that the rights and interests of children are properly taken into account by government departments, local authorities, other public bodies and voluntary and public organizations when decisions on policies affecting children are taken” [Cap 462. 9(f)]

Children are often directly or indirectly affected by the decisions, policies, and actions that adults make. These have an impact on children in both the present and the future sense, and it is necessary for the implications of these measures to be fully considered, in order for the rights of the child to be respected and protected at all times. All children must be given the opportunity to excel in their environment, in order for them to develop in a healthy and holistic manner. Specific attention needs to be given to more vulnerable groups such as disabled children, children with behavioral problems, children coming from a disadvantaged background and refugee children.

The Manifesto for Children was a major project undertaken by the Office during 2007 which aimed to identify the needs of children in Malta at present. Numerous consultations were held with professionals in varying fields, in order for the office to identify areas requiring improvement for children with regards to the Family, Education, Health, Work, Sport and Culture, and the Environment. These consultations were vital in obtaining a realistic and accurate picture of the situations that children are presently facing in Malta, particularly with regards to the current provision of services and support which children require.

Research undertaken on the Manifesto has highlighted the need for children to continue to be given opportunities to freely express their views and opinions, and for these to be listened to and respected by adults. It is necessary to increase awareness of the participatory rights of children, so that these rights may be guaranteed.

With regards to the family, it is important to be conscious of obstacles which occasionally hinder parents from fulfilling their duties in a responsible manner. The existence of poverty traps, as well as behavioral difficulties, mean that these families require additional support and attention. The best interests of the child should be of paramount importance in such circumstances, and should be the guiding principle in providing support to such families. The same holds true for children appearing in the law courts. Court delays are not in the best interests of the child, and every effort should be taken for cases where children are involved to be heard without delay, in an environment which is child-friendly and which empowers children to also have their say. In the case of children who are themselves in conflict with the law, it is vital that these cases are given individual attention, whereby the family context and social circumstances of the child are adequately taken into consideration in determining the course of action to be taken.

The individual needs of the child are of great importance in ensuring the holistic and healthy development of children. This is also evident in the field of Education, where a ‘one size fits all’ approach can not be applied. Continuous improvement of our educational system is required in order for children to prosper and receive the good quality, broad and holistic education to which they are entitled. In line with this aim, the process of phasing out streaming has already begun and should be concluded at the earliest possible opportunity. Stress caused by excessive academic pressures as well as the exam-oriented educational system should also be reduced, in favour of a more practical syllabus which better responds to the individual needs of each child. Where obstacles exist it is necessary to facilitate access to a good quality education, by means of addressing issues such as social inclusion, absenteeism, and school age mothers more effectively.

Access should also be increased with regards to the provision of the best health care to children, in accordance with health care practices which are currently taking place in other EU countries. Further improvements to health care should be introduced, through universally accessible vaccines and additional screening tests for babies alongside what is carried out at present. It is also necessary to continue to promote good health practices such as breastfeeding at the point of discharge from hospital after delivery, given Malta’s low percentage in this area in comparison with other EU countries.

Research on issues put forward in the Manifesto has also outlined the need for children to be better informed of their rights, particularly in the field of work. Children are working illegally, with only a small fine inflicted on those found in violation of child labour laws. The fact that children are not always adequately informed of their rights may lead to an abuse of their rights, and therefore it is vital that awareness on children’s rights is increased. Children and young people must also be adequately educated with regards to the increasing opportunities available to them in the field of work, in order for them to access and be aware of present and future work prospects.

Further opportunities should also be introduced in the field of sport and culture, in order to increase child participation in these activities, and for children to do so in a safe and healthy environment which enables them to socialize and develop their personal and intrapersonal skills. Children have a right to participation, as well as a right to know, understand, and explore their culture in a creative way. Opportunities and accessibility to sport, culture and the arts should continue to be built upon and provided for children, in order for children to not only learn about them, but to enjoy them.

With regards to the Environment, the consultations undertaken in this field have shown the need for a further reduction in air and noise pollution, partly through the encouragement of safe alternative means of transport. More child-friendly open spaces should also continue to be developed in both urban and rural areas, in line with the right of the child to enjoy safe open spaces and increased access to the countryside.

Although the points raised in the Manifesto were applicable to the Maltese Islands in general, certain issues with regards to Gozo such as residential care and the services of care professionals were highlighted in the Manifesto, in order to increase awareness of the situations which require additional attention in Gozo.

The consultations which were held in drafting the Manifesto were instrumental in outlining the achievements reached thus far, as well as the way forward which is required from this point on. The need to address children’s issues transcends political differences, and will require significant investment from the political party who will be elected to government in March 2008. Investing in our children is not only worth doing for its own sake, but is also the surest way to guarantee that tomorrow’s society is enhanced. In this regard, the Commissioner for Children urged the political parties to take heed of the suggestions put forward in the Manifesto for Children, which will be presented to them by this Office in the coming days.

The Manifesto for Children is published in the form of a booklet with a corresponding child friendly version in the form of a poster. Both publications are available in English and Maltese. Due to the extensive information collected during this project, it has been impossible to incorporate all the issues arising from the Commissioner for Children’s numerous consultations with professionals. Inclusion of relevant points in the published booklet has been limited to issues felt by the professionals and the Commissioner for Children to be the most urgent and pertinent. A full and unpublished version of the Manifesto for Children is available at the Office of the Commissioner for Children.

Following the great investment of resources in the Manifesto, it is intended that the project will be followed up by means of public discussions on the issues brought forward in the Manifesto. Such public response is vital for the Commissioner to continue to represent and promote the best interests of the child, and is in line with the duty of the Commissioner for Children to “provide public information and education designed to promote an understanding of, and to invite public comment on, the work of the Commissioner” (Commissioner for Children Act, art. 11 [h])

Owner: Commissioner for Children - Malta


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