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'Closed Playgrounds Curtailing Children's Right to Play'

 
Item added: 27th October, 2013
source: www.independent.com.mt
 


 

With a number of playgrounds across the country lying bare, in some cases for years, after their equipment was removed due to safety concerns, the Office of the Children’s Commissioner has acknowledged that children’s rights are being compromised as a result.

According to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, “The fact that some playgrounds are closed and thus no longer accessible for children to play in means that the right of children to play and leisure, especially those children who live near closed playgrounds, is being curtailed.

“Hence, efforts must be strengthened to expedite the process of rendering these playgrounds safe, without however, taking any short-cuts that would compromise the safety of children,” the Office Children’s Commissioner has told The Malta Independent on Sunday.

Additionally, the Children’s Commissioner said, “Playgrounds or parts of playgrounds that were found to be unsafe following inspections should be immediately closed and rendered safe within the shortest possible timeframe.”

The Malta Competition and Consumers Affairs Authority has almost completed the second round of inspections on all 161 playgrounds in Malta and Gozo, yet the vast majority of the 31 playgrounds deemed unsafe in a previous inspection concluded last year are still closed, have missing equipment or have work in progress. The MCCAA has recommended that another six (which have not been specified), be closed down.

The first round of inspections started in 2011 and the MCCAA had recommended that 31 playgrounds were to be replaced after they were found to be unsafe.

On 15 April last year, The Malta Independent on Sunday published the story entitled “Vanishing playgrounds – Now you see them, now you don’t”. Playgrounds had then started to be closed while equipment at a number of others was simply removed and, in most cases, no signs were put up to explain what had happened to some families’ favourite recreational areas.

A week later, this newspaper reported that “20 per cent of playgrounds deemed unsafe, replacements underway”.

According to figures made available by the Local Councils Parliamentary Secretariat, three playgrounds have been refurbished and another has been replaced.

Work has been in progress on a number of playgrounds for months. Four playgrounds in Mosta are currently closed as well as two in each of the following localities: Marsaxlokk, St Paul’s Bay, Mġarr, Mqabba, Gudja and Pembroke.

Consequently, some villages have been left completely without playgrounds.

Speaking to this newspaper, Mosta Mayor Shirley Farrugia said the Blata l-Għolja playground has been reopened following completion of work while the council has applied for Mepa funds for the Santa Margherita playground; the council has removed dangerous equipment from the playground at iż-Żokrija. Both are consequently in the planning stage. Another playground known as Taż-Żakak needs a total rethink and may possibly be re-opened as a multi-purpose pitch.

Designs are also ready for Ġnien Reġġie Cilia, situated behind the Mosta church, and the plan is to embellish the whole area including the surrounding streets.

Parliamentary Secretariat satisfied with process underway

Asked whether local councils were resorting to the established funds for work in playgrounds and whether the Secretariat is satisfied with the situation of playgrounds in towns and villages or whether it believes more ought to be done, a spokesman informed this newspaper: “Local councils are allocated funds by central government to maintain their playgrounds; moreover the Department for Local Government is exploring ways how it can further help financially local councils to upgrade their playgrounds.

“The Secretariat is satisfied that the Department for Local Government in collaboration with MCCAA have embarked on a long term process to help local councils reach the safety standards required in their playgrounds."

The Children’s Commissioner’s statement

“Public playgrounds impact on two basic and fundamental rights of the child, namely the right of the child to play and leisure and the right of the child to the protection of its health and safety.

“Since all the rights of the child are of equal importance and non-negotiable, there can be no trade-off or compromise between the need to ensure that playgrounds are accessible and enjoyable and the need to ensure that they are safe for children to use. This principle has three practical consequences or corollaries:

1. There should be clear and comprehensive quality benchmarks against which to measure and gauge the level of safety of playgrounds.

2. All playgrounds should be continually monitored and inspected to verify their safety against such benchmarks.

3. Those playgrounds or parts thereof that are found to be unsafe should be immediately closed and rendered safe within the shortest possible timeframe.

“The very fact that some playgrounds have been closed means that we are fulfilling our first two obligations towards the safe leisure of children. In this respect, the Office of the Commissioner for Children reiterates its appreciation for the sterling work accomplished over the past few years in the formulation of safety standards for public playgrounds by the MCCAA with the participation of a number of stakeholders, including the Office of the Commissioner for Children, and in the enforcement of the same standards by the Department of Local Government in tandem with the MCCAA.”

Children’s Commissioner receives complaints

“Our office has received complaints about the state of some public playgrounds as well as unsafe play equipment rendered so, in most case, because of vandalism. This office refers any such complaints to the competent authorities. One can say that there is a growing public awareness and increasingly high expectations about the safety of these playgrounds.

“On the other hand, the fact that some playgrounds are closed and thus no longer accessible for children to play in means that the right of children to play and leisure, especially of those children who live near closed playgrounds, is being curtailed. Hence, efforts must be strengthened to expedite the process of rendering these playgrounds safe, without however, taking any short cuts that would compromise the safety of children.

“In view of their status as public spaces, these playgrounds are a crucial means for granting all children in the younger age-groups equal access to leisure and play.”

Geographical distribution

According to the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, “Two important benchmarks of such equality of access are that all playgrounds should be of a high standard in terms of safety and play and that their distribution on the national territory should reflect the child demographics of the country’s various localities.

“The Office thus recommends that an exercise be carried out by the Department of Local Government to determine how optimal the geographical distribution of public playgrounds is in this respect and, in liaison with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority, to take the necessary steps to correct any mismatches that are found between the supply of and demand for public playgrounds.”

 

 
 



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