Children have their say over UN's report on their lifestyle

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The Independent Online

"The richer we become as a society, the less mature young people need to be. Too many people expect the good things but don't want to take responsibility."

Profound words from a teenager brought up in the heart of one of the UK's most deprived and poverty-stricken communities and who, according to yesterday's UN report on children's standards of living, is typical of a neglected generation.

However, Ciaran McIntyre, 17, from Dumbarton, has been fortunate. Unlike many of his peers living in and around Bonhill, West Dunbartonshire, he has been able to escape the perils of underage drinking, drugs, sex and anti-social behaviour which has made the UK the worst country in the Western world in which to be a child.

He is one of almost 5,000 youngsters aged between 8 and 18 rescued from the streets in the past decade by the Tullochan Trust, which set up youth clubs to tackle problems of personal development, healthy living and employability in one of the poorest areas of the UK.

If Britain is the worst place to be a child, West Dunbartonshire, as one of the three most deprived areas in Scotland, is among the worst of the worst. Vandalism, high unemployment, violent crime, drugs, truancy, drink and poverty are all apparent on the streets of Bonhill, Alexandria and surrounding areas.

"I'm not surprised Holland and Sweden are top of the list because of the opportunities young people get there. In those countries it is a big thing for families to do things together, but it isn't here. Adults don't care as much round here as they do in other places. It's a different culture here," Ciaran said.

"The worst thing about living around here is the Neds [slang for hooligans]," said Ross Lyle, 11. "They go around spraying paint on walls, smashing things up and fighting all the time. I don't want to be like that."

Despite the fact that most youngsters in the community have been affected in some way by drink, drugs and violence, many children who don't know any other lifestyle, readily say they are happy with their home, school and friends. "There is a lot of bullying, but we know we can always tell someone if it becomes a problem," said Eildh Mcindewar, 11. "A lot of kids who don't come to the club can't do that."

When many of the primary school children go into secondary education, peer pressure takes over and they begin to roam the streets with gangs on the local estates. "Before this club started, everybody would just walk about the streets getting into trouble," said Lorna Dixon, 15.

"Drink and drugs are really easy to get hold of. I don't know what it's like in other countries but it is pretty bad here," said Damian Scott, 15.

Almost all those who stay on the straight and narrow are convinced more needs to be done to encourage youngsters to see there is a future. " It's horrible but a lot of kids just cut about the streets breaking windows, getting drunk and starting fights," said Glenn Logan, 14.

"It's the way kids are brought up. Sometimes their families don't care where they are or what they are doing. Grown-ups buy them booze just to get them to go away and sometimes the local shops switch off the security cameras and sell it to them to make money. A lot of the Neds drink to feel big. They see it on TV and want to show off to mates"

"There are a lot of teenage pregnancies," says Joanne McFarlane, 15. "I know people at school who have had pregnancy scares. Everybody sees it on TV and thinks it is big to do it."

Unicef said that, compared to Holland and Sweden which came out as top places to be a child, most British children feel unloved and unsupported by a society which regards them more as a burden rather than as a valuable investment. "There is not enough to do for teenagers when they leave school. There's no jobs and no prospects for most people," said Ciaran McIntyre.

"Most people don't want to live like this but they just can't see a way out. There needs to be more help to give more people the confidence to get out there and prove to themselves they can make a better life."