Proposed laws on mandatory reporting of suspected child abuse must oblige people to inform both the gardaí and the HSE, according to an international child protection organisation.
One Child International criticised a recent report by the Oireachtas Justice Committee which recommended people should be able to report to the HSE, rather than the gardaí.
The Oireachtas committee came to its decision after holding a series of public consultations with organisations working in the area, many of which expressed concern over aspects of the proposed new law, including an obligation to report cases to both gardaí and HSE.
Some of the groups expressed concern over the impact on victims who might be reluctant to talk to the groups if they knew the organisations were legally compelled to tell gardaí.
The groups said such concern was particularly relevant in cases of family abuse where people might not want gardaí involved.
At the launch of the report last January, committee chairman David Stanton said mandatory reporting of child sex abuse was not a “black and white” issue.
He said it was “extremely complex and difficult” to draft legislation in this area. The report was sent to Justice Minister Alan Shatter prior to publication of the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill 2011.
In a letter to Mr Stanton, Evin M Daly of One Child International said the legislation should not be complex and should in fact be “relatively simple”.
He said: “Mandatory reporting is designed to protect our children from abuse; all four types of abuse, not just sexual abuse.
“The abuse of children is a criminal offence. As such it must be reported to — and investigated by — the gardaí and the HSE child protection unit. The HSE has no law enforcement powers. There is therefore no ‘lack of clarity’ as to whom it should be reported.”
He said the majority of abuse had always happened in the home: “No intervention in child abuse in a home can be made without the involvement of the gardaí who will be required to protect an investigator on an abuse call.”
Mr Daly said a proposed “reasonable excuse” clause which would exempt a person from possible criminal sanction if they failed to report a case of suspected abuse, was a “red herring”.
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