Rights of child move could pave way for adoptions

CHANGES to the Constitution which would enshrine the rights of the child would also cease discrimination on grounds of parents’ marital status and open the way for thousands of children in the care system to be adopted.

The Joint Oireachtas Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children published its proposed wording yesterday, with some Committee members asking for a referendum on the issue to be held as early as this summer.

The third and final report published by the Joint Committee includes recommendations that would allow the children of a married couple to be adopted by another family, and also states that the threshold for state intervention is identical for children of marital and non-marital families.

It would also require the state “by proportionate intervention” to ensure a child is only removed from his or her family where no other appropriate action can be taken, and that a child’s best interests be the “primary consideration in all matters concerning the child”.

Drawing on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the wording – spread over two pages of a comprehensive, 172-page report – comes after more than two years of meetings and almost 200 submissions from various interest groups.

The publication of the report yesterday immediately led to calls for the Government to rubber stamp the proposed wording – agreed by every member of the multi-party committee – and a date for a referendum to be set.

Committee chairwoman Mary O’Rourke paid tribute to the members of the group who framed the wording, which she said could have “far-reaching effects for children”.

Fine Gael children’s spokesman Alan Shatter said about 2,000 children were currently in long-term care or foster care and they could now be adopted. But he said there was an “urgent necessity” for the wording to be backed by Government and put to the people in a “defined time scale”.

“We do not want to see this report simply gathering dust on department shelves without any action being taken,” he said, adding that a recent case in the criminal courts where a father wa convicted of the systematic sexual abuse of his son outlined the need for swift action on the proposed amendment.

The amendment proposes a new Article 42, entitled ‘Children’, leading with the provision that “The state shall cherish all the children of the state equally.” Among other provisions is the right of the child to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, having regard to the child’s age and maturity. The state would still recognise that the primary and natural carers of the child are his or her parents, but “by proportionate means” the state can step in on the child’s behalf if parents fail in their responsibilities.

The report also noted the lack of access to source information relating to cases under the Child Care Act 1991 in the District Court and recommended reporting as in family law cases.

Minister for Children Barry Andrews said he could not anticipate the response of Government to the proposed wording but said he was in favour of a referendum.

Responding to criticism of alleged slow Government response to the committee’s two earlier reports, on the use of ‘soft information’ by gardaí and the issue of strict liability, the minister said a bill on the former was at an advanced stage while legislation was also being prepared for the Criminal Justice (Sexual Offences) Bill.

An amendment to the Adoption Bill would also be required for the proposed wording to be made law.



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