Amendment proposal fails to cherish children equally
We are being asked to vote on a defective constitutional proposal that extends weak protection to our children from abuse and neglect, writes VINCENT BROWNE
THERE IS a straightforward question to be asked about the proposed constitutional amendment concerning children. It is: why does it not include the oft-quoted and approved aspiration of the 1916 Proclamation: “cherishing all the children of the nation equally”?
Of course the reference to “children” in that case was to all the citizens of the State, adults included, but at the outset of the deliberations on this amendment Bertie Ahern in 2006 promised that this objective would be part of an amendment.
So what happened? Instead, we are asked to vote on an amendment that offers feeble protection for children from abuse and neglect and nothing at all about cherishing the children of the nation equally. Not that the amendment does not improve prospects for some children, but it does so at a cost of deferring prospects of real change for children, perhaps for generations.
The first bit of the proposed amendment – “The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights” – is just a piece of decoration, for this is implicit in the Constitution as it stands.
The next bit permits the State to intervene by “proportionate means” where parents (whether married or not) fail in their duty towards their children to “such extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected”. This is a modest change from the present constitutional provision which says the State may intervene only where the parents “for physical or moral reasons” fail in their duty to their children.
Is it contended that where the parents “for physical or moral reasons” fail in their duty to their children this would not encompass circumstances where the safety of the children were at risk? And if, as most people agree, there is a moral obligation on parents to provide for the safety and welfare of their children, what is the point of this part of the amendment?
There is a further part to this second bit which provides for the adoption of a child where the married parents have failed in their duty towards the child and where the best interests of the child requires the adoption – this is the bit that makes a difference, as does the bit which allows for the voluntary placement for adoption of a child, by parents even when these parents are married.
A further bit about children’s voices being heard is also fine but there was nothing to stop this happening anyway. A final bit which provides that in all legal proceedings concerning children “the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration”, is fine but raises the question about how the best interests of the child might be perceived.