Children involved in court cases, such as their parents' separation proceedings, should have access to some form of facility that would ensure their concerns were heard by the judge, Commissioner for Children Carmen Zammit said.

As things stood legally, the commissioner said, she could not intervene in court cases to ensure that a child's voice was heard in court.

So if, for example, children had a point to make in a court case or felt that their rights were being breached, they currently had no way of voicing those concerns.

Moreover, Ms Zammit explained that a child advocate, tasked with safeguarding children's interests, could only intervene in a court case on the parents' request.

While stressing that it was important for the courts to safeguard their autonomy, she said a set-up was required to channel these children's concerns. This could either form part of the courts or fall under the office of the commissioner.

Ms Zammit was speaking to MEP Simon Busuttil who visited her office to speak about children's rights.

Her three-year term as commissioner ends on Saturday but she will remain in office until the government decides whether to name a new commissioner or renew her appointment.

During the visit, Dr Busuttil explained that throughout the next five years in the European Parliament he would be pushing for an EU law that protected children.

So far, he said, legislation on children was fragmented and there was need for a specific law.

Ms Zammit explained that her office formed part of the European Network of Ombudspersons for Children (ENOC). Together with the network, her office was working on various issues on a European level. These included helping children understand their rights, giving them a voice to exercise those rights and working to eliminate the smacking of children because Maltese law still allowed reasonable chastisement.

"In Malta, there is a lot left to do to allow children to have a voice. There is a lack of policies that oblige adults to listen to children before formulating programmes for them. Programmes are often about what adults want," she said.

Dr Busuttil said that all too often the fact that children did not have a voice was taken for granted. Such a mentality had to be challenged.

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