22 children victims of shootings and attacks

(Irish News)

At least 22 children have been victims of shootings and beatings by paramilitaries since the start of the year, a new report has said.

Almost a third of all victims of paramilitary-style attacks by republicans and loyalists have been aged 17 or younger.

Professor Liam Kennedy of Queen's University Belfast, who disclosed the shocking figures in a seminar yesterday (Monday), said they had "consequences of the most brutal and far-reaching kind".

"In a country whose society has been so ravaged by emigration, there is something particularly odious about organisations who claim to be 'defenders of the community' and yet at the same time are in the business of driving people out of Ireland," he said.

Of the 22 shootings and beatings by the end of August this year – described as "child abuse" by a charity – eight were by republicans and 14 by loyalists. There was a total of 41 attacks for the whole of last year.

But Prof Kennedy warned that the figures, which were provided by police, underestimated the extent of the problem.

"Rather like rape and sexual assault, the numbers of reported instances fall well below the actual numbers," he said.

"In other words, these are minimum estimates of the extent of paramilitary repression within communities with Northern Ireland."

In his report, Broken bodies, Silenced voices: the Paramilitary Abuse of Children in NI, Prof Kennedy wrote that victims of attacks often suffered long-term psychological disorders, including depression, nightmares and flashbacks.

However, he dismissed claims that so-called punishment attacks take place because of a policing vacuum.

"I completely understand the fact that people are increasingly angry because they are victims of anti-social behaviour," he said.

"But to take the step beyond that, by going to paramilitaries offering some solution, strikes me as appalling."

He added that such attacks – even where there is evidence of anti-social behaviour – were counter-productive, in some cases driving people towards committing more crime.

"Not only are the attacks human rights violations, they don't actually work," Prof Kennedy said.

He said other methods used by paramilitaries, such as exiling a person, were just as problematic because they led to families being divided and individuals having to live in an alien environment.

He also suggested that attacks in some cases had contributed to young people's decisions to take their own lives.

The seminar was the latest in a series organised by Save the Children, looking at issues affecting young people today.

Sheri Chamberlain, the group's director in Northern Ireland, said it was not only up to communities to solve the problem.

"The communities need support and a great deal more support than they are getting at the minute," she said.

Ms Chamberlain said condemnation from politicians was not enough.

"It's important to call beatings and attacks what they are – and that's child abuse," she said.

October 20, 2004

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