Laws on smacking children questioned

A senior member of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has questioned whether Irish laws on smacking mean parents can be good role models for their children.

Speaking at a conference in Dublin yesterday organised by the Campaign for Children, Dr Maria Herczog, said: “If you are hitting your child, why are we expecting your child to be non-violent and non-aggressive?”

She said similar questions needed to be posed to teachers who engaged in “verbal humiliation” of students. She added that adults often forget that children do not learn from what adults say but from what they do, and that “the most important component is the role model”.

Dr Herczog was speaking at the conference on how implementation of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in Ireland could lead to better child protection.

She also advocated Ireland adopt a scheme which operates in Iceland, in which children who have been abused reside in an “Icelandic house”, in which police, prosecutors, psychologists, doctors, social workers and anyone involved in the child’s case meet and discuss with the child the best way of progressing his or her care “under one roof”.

She added that the implementation of mandatory reporting — as proposed by government — required “very careful assessment”.

Another speaker, Barnardos director of advocacy, Norah Gibbons, questioned Ireland’s laws in which the right to “reasonable chastisement” permits parental smacking of children.

Michele Clark of the Department of Children and Youth Affairs said the HSE last year received 30,000 referrals regarding child protection issues, with 1,500 cases of confirmed abuse and “a few hundred” others where abuse could not be confirmed.

She said a number of steps were being taken by Government to improve child protection and welfare, with 1,310 children receiving some level of aftercare, children already being moved from St Patrick’s Institute for Young Offenders to a facility in Oberstown, and the National Childcare Information System (NCCIS) being put out to tender.

Meanwhile, the Oireachtas Committee on health and Children heard criticism from childcare groups of some aspects of the Heads of the Children First Bill.

Early Childhood Ireland, Start Strong and Childminding Ireland raised concerns over what they said were discrepancies.

Irene Gunning of Early Childhood Ireland said, for example, that emotional abuse had not been included in the heads of the bill, that school age and out of school services were omitted and that proposals relating to pre-school services would put “unmanageable pressure” on them to comply.

Start Strong director Ciarin de Buis said children cared for by child-minders should have the same protection as those attending other pre-school services and child-minder should be categorised as “someone who looks after one or more children on domestic premises for reward”.


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