Loophole just part of a pattern of State’s neglect of children: report

THE legal loophole which allowed ‘Mr A’ to walk free from court despite having sex with a 12-year-old girl is symptomatic of the Government’s inaction on children’s rights, according to the authors of a major new report which will be presented to the UN.

The report, From Rhetoric to Rights, was carried out by Children’s Rights Alliance and analysed the government’s progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child since 1998.

It found the Government has failed to implement significant reforms in many areas of child welfare, and in some areas, such as children smuggling, no progress has been made at all.

In all, the report highlights 10 areas of concern, including:

* The status of children in the constitution.

* The treatment of ethnic minority children.

* Resources devoted to children with mental health issues.

The report calls on the Government to hold a referendum to amend the Constitution so that children’s rights are expressly recognised.

Children’s Rights Alliance deputy chief executive Maria Corbett said the Government needs to deliver on its pledges.

“It is almost 14 years since the Irish Government ratified the UN convention on children’s rights,” she said.

“Progress on the recommendations made to the Irish Government in 1998 has been slow.

“We don’t have some of the basic services, such as out-of-hours social services that are the long-established norm in other European countries.

The report was carried out over an 18-month period and is the first major independent survey to be conducted since the UN made recommendations to the Government in 1998.

Aside from constitutional change, the report makes a number of further recommendations.

It calls for an immediate end to discriminatory practices when dealing with ethnic minority children and the establishment of an adequate health service for children with mental health issues.

A spokesman for Children’s Minister Brian Lenihan welcomed the report, saying: “This is part of the reporting process under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child”.

Jillian Van Turnhout, chief executive of the National Children’s Alliance, said: “We have had a lot of rhetoric but little real action.”

Ms van Turnhout said, “The Irish Government is failing children on many levels: in relation to child protection, the treatment of ethnic minority children, those with emotional, behavioural and mental health issues, and children living in poverty.”

It appeals for a rights-based approach to children, saying their rights must be guaranteed by legislation, or little progress will be made.

The report contains 87 detailed recommendations for Government action that the alliance says would make a big difference to children’s lives.

Drawn up before this week’s court case, it calls for the age of sexual consent to be clarified. It also says the age of criminal responsibility, currently at seven years of age, must be raised to 12 for all crimes.

Quality of life is higher for most of Ireland’s children than ever before, but relative poverty rates are high.

“Particularly troubling is the fact that Ireland continues to have the third-highest rate of child poverty among developed countries.

“One-child-in-10 in Ireland lives in consistent poverty and nearly one-in-four is at risk of poverty (relative poverty),” the report says.

The report shows how unimportant children have been considered by the Government, the alliance says. The National Children’s Office has been subsumed into the Office of Minister for Children, but the minister does not attend all Cabinet meetings, it points out.

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