The high number of children living in poverty; the housing shortage that sees families living in hotels; and the lives of Travellers, who have an infant mortality rate three times the average, were all raised by members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
While the Government blamed the lack of funds due to the economic crisis for cutbacks in areas that affect the lives of young people, Children’s Minister James Reilly, attending the day-long hearing in Geneva, said employment is the best way out of poverty.
Leading members of the committee, which was examining how Ireland was abiding by the convention, raised a host of issues whereby they believe the country is breaching its obligations to children.
Kirsten Sandberg, who will be part of the team writing the final report from the UN committee, asked what was being done about very expensive childcare services and the crisis in homelessness, with children housed for too long in emergency accommodation and often too far from their school.
Mr Reilly said the Government is taking the homeless issues very seriously and listed a series of schemes that have been initiated, but said it would not be resolved in the short term.
Questions were posed by Yasmeen Muhammad Shariff, vice-chair of the committee, about what happens if an adolescent is a victim of rape or incest and wants an abortion, or does not have funding to travel outside the country for one.
She was told the services available “reflect the current legal position in Ireland and that is the extent to which the state services will address the issue”.
In briefings before the hearing, Abortion Rights Campaign spokeswoman Alison Spillane said abortion remains illegal except in very rare circumstances.
“What this means in practice is that marginalised girls, such as young asylum-seekers and girls in the care of the State, bear the full burden of the Irish State’s abortion ban, while more privileged girls can circumvent it by travelling abroad,” said Ms Spillane.
Mr Reilly and his team were praised by the committee for the way they engaged with the questions and issues.
However Ms Sandberg said she was “amazed at all the nice policies and strategies” but wanted to know how they were working on the ground.
Another, Gehad Madi, said he applauded Mr Reilly clarifying many issues personally and acknowledging hurdles being faced.
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