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The landmark judgment in the case of Louise O’Keeffe (January 28) reflects similar rulings by the European Court of Human Rights that gives recognition to children’s rights.
In the 1980s a series of cases were adjudicated in Strasbourg concerning corporal punishment in British schools under Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights which states that ‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’. The same legal provision has now been applied successfully to include the sexual abuse of children.
Although the O’Keeffe case dates back to the 1970s, it sends an important message to the Government about its duty of care and the legal, as well as moral obligation, to not only protect minors against abuse but to put in place adequate safeguards and effective remedies.
The ruling also signals a cultural shift in Ireland concerning the status of children. Added to the findings in the Murphy, Ryan and Cloynes inquiries into clerical abuse, there is now clear validation that children have a right to be taught in a safe environment and that their physical integrity must be respected by teachers.
The implications are that as a signatory to the European Convention, the State and particularly the Department of Education, will need to ‘raise its game’ to ensure that the public feels confident that existing and future generations of children are protected within the educational system.
Professor of Education
University of Limerick
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