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'Stop targeting alcohol at young'

18 June 08 16:36 GMT

Children's Commissioner for Wales Keith Towler says a World Health Organisation survey which found children and young people in Wales had been drunk more often than others in the western world is a signal to adults on their own responsibilities. This is what he told BBC Radio Wales:

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It's a real wake-up call. The report really emphasises the extent to which we've got to listen to children and young people about their experiences.

Initially, you read this stuff and you start thinking about marketing, about cheap alcohol, you start thinking about 'where are children getting this alcohol from?' and then you start thinking about, well, why are they doing this?

I couldn't help but think that looking at some of the statistics, that you've got to be concerned about the most disadvantaged and vulnerable children but I guess any one of us, in any town across Wales, could cite examples where we've seen children or young people hanging (around) in parks and wonder whether they're drinking.

So I think this is quite prevalent and I guess there's a question about our culture and what we're doing as adults. The whole of our culture is based on alcohol, as adults, or at least is seems to be, we've certainly got a big pub culture.

So I think, as adults, whether you're parents or an adult generally, you've got to think about our responsibilities to children and what examples we're showing.

What is alcohol consumption doing to children's bodies and what will the consequences be for them as they grow up and become adults later. I think there's a physical health concern.

Of course, there are a number of other concerns about the state that children might be getting themselves in to and how vulnerable they become as a result of that.

From the Welsh Assembly Government point of view, I was at the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child last week and we talked about how good some of policies and strategies are in Wales.

But we really still are not seeing the implementation of those strategies on the ground, so the emphasis now has really got to be on practical measures.

Yes, I think we have got to do something clamping down on cheap alcohol sales. Yes, we've got to do something about marketing.

What strikes me about the marketing of alcohol is the extent to which is it obviously targeted at children and young people.

'Vulnerable'

We've got to do something about that. But we've got ask ourselves fundamental questions about why children and young people are so bored, that they are hanging around on street corners, in parks, in subways, drinking alcohol. The time is now for practical measures.

There's an issue for how well our universal services for children and young people are being delivered.

A number of commentators will talk about the way in which the youth service, for example, has gone through rocky times in terms of its availability.

There are number of towns, I think, across Wales, where basic services to children and young people are being denuded, where funding for children's services is short-term and vulnerable, where people working with children, particularly in the voluntary sector, are not sure about their jobs and their own security.

When you think about how critical those services are for children, we've got to ask ourselves fundamental questions about the extent of our universal services provision for children - stop blaming children, start talking about our responsibilities as adults and thinking about how we can support children better.

'Stresses'

I think the pressures on young children and adults are quite considerable. There are a number of pressures. It seems to me, were in a culture where we expect children and young people to grow up very, very quickly and to deal with adult issues at much younger ages.

And that increases the stress. I think the stress is different - I'm not suggesting for a minute that none of didn't have stressful childhoods - but I do think there are stresses on children and young people. Some of them cope with it very well, of course.

If you take the statistics in this report as read, and I don't know how many children and young people contributed to this survey, but 80% of children are doing ok, but we've got real concern about 20% of vulnerable children and there's an issue about how we're supporting them.

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