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Our children need to be heard - before it’s too late

Last update - Thursday, May 20, 2010, 12:42 By Priya Rajsekar

One day recently I overheard a group of children, including my own,  discussing the pros and cons of their respective neighbourhoods. One proclaimed that he hated his estate because the teens there were always setting fire to things. Another said it was far too dangerous to go outside any more in his estate, as someone had been violently attacked beside his house. Worse still, a third said he lived in a place where people had been murdered.

Then, in what seemed to be a bungled reference to the tragic death of Toyosi Shitta-bey, one child who lived in a different estate told the others how a young black boy in Tyrrelstown had been stabbed in the head with a screwdriver by his soccer coach – of course the details being completely wrong.
I think back to 10 years ago, when I loved to tell my family and friends back home that Ireland was a country where the only way one could die was of old age. The roads were safer, crime was not as rampant and politeness and friendliness far outweighed occasional incidents of racism or violence.
In sharp contrast, in this very same country a decade down the line, we have children who are preoccupied not with their favourite sports stars or singers or computer games, but with the extent of crime in the real world around them.
Between then and now, Ireland has seen unprecedented levels of prosperity and opportunities, and near full employment. As a result, many of our children have grown to expect their relative luxury as a given – be it getting over a dozen gifts at Christmas,  being driven around in the latest wheels, studying in private schools or enrolling in expensive extra-curriculars.
Yet in terms of their recipe for happiness, it seems our children in Ireland today are missing a few ingredients. For one thing,  a great number of parents – irrespective of their nationality – are afraid to let their children out of sight, taking away the basic freedom of playing outdoors. At the same time, busy lifestyles mean that our children get a lot less quality time with their parents and spend far too much staring at their computer or television screens.
Perhaps one of the most serious issues facing children these days is their lack of a voice when it comes to making decisions about their lives. Here we are, worrying about the merits or otherwise of a certain type of education or whether or not Muslim girls should be allowed to wear veils or whatever, while the real issues that are affecting their lives every single day – issues such as bullying, discrimination, obesity, premature exposure to sex, drugs and alcohol – are virtually ignored.
The current financial crisis and its repercussions will give way to more prosperous times sooner or later. However, our failure to address the most pressing needs of our children will have consequences that are far more serious and long-lasting. Our children need to be heard before it’s too late.

Priya Rajsekar is a freelance writer

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