This submission* is made by the Spiritual Assembly as elected representative body for members of the Bahá'í Faith in the Londonderry district. We are very happy to have this opportunity to make known our views on the appointment and role of a Commissioner for Children for Northern Ireland.

We welcome the proposed appointment. Children are one of the most vulnerable groups in society and, at the same time, the most important. They are the future. As they have no voice in the government; and no power of their own, society has the responsibility to safeguard their well-being. They have to be helped to the full development of their physical, mental and moral capacities. If we neglect this we threaten the foundations of society itself. The destiny of all future generations depends on the care taken with children now.

Children have rights, and the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child should be the framework within which the Commissioner works. This will necessitate a broad approach with working relationships with a number of agencies. However a mere adherence to “rights” in their basic sense will not be enough. Our greatest obligation to our children is to ensure that they grow up in a society in which they can flourish and develop and whose benefits they can pass on to the next generation.

For Bahá'ís the natural environment for children’s growth and development is the family, however that is defined. It follows that measures to strengthen the family and safeguard the bonds between the generations are essential if children’s rights are to be respected.

Respect for children’s rights in this and succeeding generations also means that they must be educated in more than material and vocational subjects. Failure to educate the human spirit – and by “education of the human spirit” we do not simply mean religious instruction as such - and the neglect of character development have already contributed to a number of seemingly intractable social problems. If we neglect our responsibility to young people in this area we fail them and their own children. For that reason we strongly advocate educational programmes and activities aimed at promoting social cohesion, and we feel the Commissioner, by virtue of his or her position, will be well placed to promote these with a number of existing agencies.

October 2001 CE

NOTE: * Submission to the Human Rights Unit of the Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister