Updated 1.50pm, adds statement from Kaċċaturi San Ubertu
Commissioner for Children Pauline Miceli has hit out against a hunter who handed a gun to a child and guided him to shoot at a bird, calling the behaviour abusive and dangerous.
On Monday, Birdlife Malta uploaded a video in which a child is seen handling a shotgun in Miżieb and being shown how to use it by a man identified as the brother of FKNK secretary general Daniel Xriha.
The organisation said that it had caught Xriha doing the same thing one year ago in another video.
In reaction to the footage, Pauline Miceli posted on social media saying that “child abuse takes many forms. Teaching children how to handle guns and shooting is not only illegal but abusive while exposing them to great danger.”
“It is far from good role modelling and irresponsible of a parent to do so. As commissioner for children I strongly condemn such behaviour and abuse,” she said.
In a statement later, commissioner's office said that what was seen in the footage was in clear breach of the Arms Act which allows minors of a certain age to use arms for target shooting but not for hunting.
"Regardless of whether the child seen in the footage is old enough to be held criminally responsible for his actions, these were carried out clearly with the blessing of and without sufficient oversight by the accompanying adult.
"This renders the child a victim of the adult’s criminal behaviour. Since laws designed to protect children are effective only insofar as those who breach them are duly and expeditiously punished, the office calls for this and other similar crimes to be prosecuted without delay."
The office said it was also "of grave concern" the fact that the minor is seen to be in very close range of a misfiring gun that could have seriously injured him.
"This near miss highlights a lacuna in our laws that do not prohibit children accompanying adults in hunting expeditions," it said as it called for the necessary amendments to the law.
The office said it does not have a position or agenda regarding hunting as this is outside its remit. Its concern was solely in ensuring there are necessary and sufficient safeguards in place to protect children from physical harm caused by the use of weapons.
Birdlife on Monday sent out a letter to parliamentarians, the police and the commissioner for children proposing legislation that would ban the presence of minors during hunting.
Last year, the same man in the video had also been caught on camera committing a similar crime, the NGO highlighted.
Birdlife commended the strong stance taken by Miceli in response to their plea, which was also sent to Home Affairs Minister Bryon Camilleri, Justice Minister Edward Zammit Lewis and the Police Commissioner Angelo Gafà.
"Well done Ms Pauline Miceli for standing for what is right. Let us now make sure the laws are clear and if need be changed. Anyone carrying a shotgun should not be accompanied by minors," CEO Mark Sultana said in a Facebook post.
While FKNK accused the activists of being in a private area and said they had filed a report with police over the issue, Sultana countered that Miżieb footpaths were promised to be open to the public year round.
He also pointed out that Miżieb had become a playground of illegalities and that a detailed report on the situation would be submitted to the European Commission and shared with the media in the coming days.
Birdlife's indoctrination influencing people in certain positions - hunters
Meanwhile, in another statement, Kaċċaturi San Ubertu (KSU) said it was clear that Birdlife’s indoctrination had also reached people like Miceli and others who saw hunters and their children as being from "a different species".
KSUdescribed Birdlife’s request as “arrogant and discriminatory” towards children, hunters and those who wished to practice hunting.
It said it agreed that people younger than 18, the age at which one is given a hunting licence locally, should not be allowed to use a gun even if in the presence of a licenced person.
This was because this was what the Maltese law stated although such law needed to be revised to come in conformity to that in European countries.
Birdlife, KSU said, expected children not to be allowed to spend their free time at their fathers' fields during the hunting season.
It noted that in other countries, children were taught about hunting at school. In the UK for example, very young children could also practice within the parameters of the law.
On the other hand, in Malta, Birdlife had infiltrated schools to indoctrinate children against hunters and lead a continuous crusade of spying on hunters and trappers in hope of witnessing a breach of the law.
This was persecution and a breach of privacy that no one had ever criticised.
Miceli, KSU said, had judged a hunter who was accompanied by his children saying this was “abuse of minors”.
A person in such a position, it said, should distinguish between a case of irresponsibility and another of a hunter spending quality time with his children and passing on to them an old tradition. But rather than using common sense, the commissioner was giving an "alarmist and biased" message.
Were children in a car or on a boat not in danger? And what about those who went abseiling, or rode bicycles in traffic, KSU asked.
Hunters and trappers, it continued, were persecuted by entities such as Birdlife, the behaviour of whom was never criticised by any government. They (Birdlife) spied on people, created hatred towards hunters and division among the people, it charged.
Such behaviour influenced people in positions who discriminated against hunting. In a democratic society, this was abusive and breached the rights of children which the commissioner should be protecting, it said.