Courts fail our troubled children: Reports calls for new process

It seems humanly impossible not to have some sympathy for the Islamic State “brides” and their unfortunate children, many of whom are dying in refugee camps.

Courts fail our troubled children: Reports calls for new process

It seems humanly impossible not to have some sympathy for the Islamic State “brides” and their unfortunate children, many of whom are dying in refugee camps.

That sympathy is qualified. The reality is that their useful-fools’ decision to be part of an organisation that brought barbarism to an almost unprecedented level in the modern world is the main reason for their, and their children’s, tragic, wasted lives.

Those religious-belief-driven positions, however, cannot be applied to the Beirut street children whose lives are another shameful cameo in the Middle East’s eternal tragedy. They feature in Nadine Labaki’s Oscar-nominated Capurnaeum. Victoria White reports from Lebanon today and quotes Labaki: “I thought if I stay silent I’m complicit...”

Victoria White in a kindergarten, for Palestinian children at Beddawi Refugee Camp, where families have languished for years
Victoria White in a kindergarten, for Palestinian children at Beddawi Refugee Camp, where families have languished for years

Lebanon, once bitten twice shy, cannot provide official refugee camps. The camps they offered Palestinian refugees since the 1940s are impoverished, dysfunctional ghettos and contributed to Lebanon’s bloody civil war and continue to destabilise that once-enviable country. The depth, the intractability of these differences make any difficulties we might have on these islands seem almost playful diversions.

Despite that, today’s report on how our courts process child care cases cannot be ignored — after all, resolving these difficulties is within our reach if we dedicate the resources needed to make this process more child-friendly, more humane and most of all, the end of a process rather than the beginning of a litany of life-long failure.

The Children Care Law Reporting Project report describes situations that might have shocked Dickens and represent deep social failure in a country with our resources and enthusiastic propensity for judging others’ failures. The CCLRP sent representatives to a full-day sitting in 35 courts, covering the 24 districts in the district court circuit, between October 2018 and January 2019. In one court on one day, with just one sitting judge, there were 139 cases listed, consisting of crime, general civil law, family law and child care. Anyone who expects justice, much less empathy and dignity, in such a stretched setting is optimistic. No judge, even one with the wisdom of David and the stamina of Dennis Kimetto, could deal with such a list as well as they might wish. In another district, the CCLRP found that judges can have over 120 cases listed on family law days. These impossibilities seem remnants from a time when the court process was imagined part of a sanction rather than part of the solution.

CCLRP’s Carol Coulter stressed the urgency of legislating for a specialist family court: “This underlines... that legislation for a specialist family court is urgently needed.” It may seem a stretch to conflate Isis “brides” and our failing children’s courts but every tragic life is somehow rooted in rejection, germinated by social failure and a lack of support at a moment of crisis. The CCLRP report describes exactly just such an environmnent.

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