UN Convention - Our shameful record on child rights

AFTER 14 years of having ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), it might be expected that the Government would have implemented key areas of it.

Far from it, and that is why the Government should be suitably embarrassed when it is criticised, as it is expected to be, when it appears before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child next Wednesday.

However, Government discomfort before a UN body is the least of the problem, even though it is symptomatic of the dearth of protective measures, especially legislative, that exist in this country to protect the rights of children.

Certain steps have been taken, such as the establishment of the National Children’s Strategy, the Office of the Ombudsman for Children and, of course, a Minister for Children, who is Brian Lenihan.

It is he who will bear the brunt of the UN criticism this week, and while he has striven to advance the drive for child protection, there is a lamentable urgency at political level to make sure it happens.

It is shameful that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world, so many children are still living in poverty.

This country has been overwhelmed by child abuse scandals, yet there is no systematic evaluation of professionals working with children, and very often it is the case that garda checks are carried out only at the request of the employer.

The public could be forgiven for thinking that there was, long before now, a very strict regime of checks and balances in place to monitor those in a position of trust over children. Such is not the case.

Neither is there a Child Protection Register in existence here, there is no round-the-clock social work service for children and, worse still, there is no statutory requirement upon people to report suspected cases of child abuse.

Without any doubt, among the regretful shames of this country is the fact that so many young people become trapped in criminality without any intervention in many cases. That so many of them end up in adult prisons is disgraceful and detrimental to them breaking the cycle of criminal involvement, and, crucially, is contrary to international treaties.

Ironically, the Constitution which is regularly invoked to stress how children are cherished here, is viewed by the Children’s Rights Alliance (CRA) as the greatest overall barrier to the implementation of the UNCRC, in other words, their rights.

The CRA believes that under the Constitution the status of children means that their rights are subordinate to those of the family and, consequently, the State is reluctant to cross that threshold for the protection of children.

Coincidentally, the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Child Protection is considering, among other things, that a referendum on children’s rights may be necessary.

Admittedly, that committee was set up, after the Supreme Court overturned the law on statutory rape earlier this year, to carry out a review of criminal law relating to sexual offences against children, including the question of age of consent.

But its chairman, Deputy Peter Power, has said that one of the key functions of the committee would be to examine the desirability, or otherwise, of amending the Constitution to deal with the outcome of the case and also provide a new constitutional right for the protection of children.

Any constitutional barrier that denies children their rights cannot have been intended by its framers and should be removed.

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