UN: End religious criteria in schools

Stop discriminating against children on religious grounds was the blunt message delivered to the State by the UN committee reviewing the country’s protection of children’s rights.

UN: End religious criteria in schools

They also called for the children of Catholic priests to be given the right to know who their father is and be entitled to be cared for by him, and receive necessary psychological treatment.

The UN committee of international experts did not accept many of the State’s arguments put to them at a special day-long hearing in Geneva last month.

Their 19-page report lists a range of areas where they believe Ireland is not considering the best needs of children and especially Traveller, Roma, migrant, ill, and disabled children.

The committee heard many parents now feel they have to baptise their children into a religion they do not believe in just to get them into a local State-funded primary school.

They called for the revision of the Equal Status Act allowing primary and post-primary schools that promote certain religious values to refuse to admit students not of that denomination.

The State was also told it needs to act to significantly increase the number of non-denominational or multi- denominational schools and allow children to opt-out of religious education and be offered alternatives.

The report also called for reforms in the Leaving Certificate exam to reduce the stress it causes for students, to develop a curriculum of physical activities that can be enjoyed by all students, and establish a proper complaints mechanism for students in schools.

Jane Donnelly of Atheist Ireland, who attended the Geneva hearing, welcomed this recommendation and said that this was the ninth time an international body such as the UN or the Council of Europe has called for discrimination on religious grounds to be banned in Ireland.

Michael Baron, head of the group Equate, who also attended the hearing, said: “We could see the experts’ disbelief at the fact that religious discrimination is written into the Irish statute books and at the extraordinary dominance of religious groups in schools.”

The committee also dealt with the issue of letting children know who their parents are, including those born from surrogate mothers and through assisted reproduction.

The State should also provide surrogate mothers and prospective parents with counselling and support. They also called for psychological support for children fathered by practicing Catholic priests and that they have a right to know and be cared for by their fathers, as appropriate.

The report said the State should decriminalise abortion in all circumstances and review legislation to ensure children’s access to safe abortion and post-abortion care and services.

The rights and needs of children should be main-streamed in all instances, be it in courts or in government budgets, and while the authors believe children should have their own full Cabinet minister, they also called for proper funding for the department, as well as completely independent funding for the Children’s Ombudsman’s office.

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