Children in Ulster 'are routinely threatened'

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The Independent Online
CHILDREN in Northern Ireland are suffering brutal treatment at the hands of the security services and terrorist groups, according to a new report.

Helsinki Watch, a United States-based human rights organisation which produced the report, said its research suggests that both Catholic and Protestant children in the province are routinely threatened and sometimes physically assaulted.

A 15-year-old boy from the Ballymurphy area of west Belfast, said: 'A soldier shoved his gun in my face and said that he'd blow my brains out. All I did was look at him and he called me over.'

The report also alleges that children are subjected to abuse during interrogation by the Royal Ulster Constabulary. It quotes an anonymous Belfast solicitor as saying: 'What they do to young people is very sinister. Filing a complaint against the RUC is a waste of time - the complaints system is a joke. In 13 years I've only had one complaint upheld.'

He claimed police try to get young people to act as informers and discourage them from asking for solicitors to be present during interviews. The study criticises conditions in Castlereagh Holding Centre and Belfast Remand Centre, where prisoners as young as 17 can be held along with adults.

Sir Oliver Napier, chair of the Standing Advisory Committee on Human Rights, who visited Castlereagh, said in the report: 'We were disgusted by the physical conditions . . . they were degrading and appalling.'

The report said children were also subjected to abuse from terrorist organisations carrying out punishment shootings and assaults. Last year, 10 youths (17- to 19-year-olds) were shot by republicans, and seven by loyalists; eight young people were assaulted by republicans and six by loyalists. Five children under 17 were also assaulted by republicans.