Teenagers forgotten in referendum debate
OPINION:This weekend, all those eligible will be asked to go to the polls and vote on the 31st amendment to the Constitution.
When I first heard people talking about the proposed article 42A I didn’t pay much attention. I’m too young to vote, so why should I pay attention? The more I heard, however, the more I realised I should, as the amendment very much affects me.
If the amendment is passed, the Constitution will, for the first time, positively and explicitly say young people have rights. Many people are surprised when they hear this is the first time our rights will be recognised. Most of us take it for granted that our rights are looked after, but when we need to call them into force we find out this may not always be the case.
What does article 42A contain? Much of it refers to young people who may be at risk and their rights in terms of adoption, safety and welfare. I found it hard to relate to these parts as I have never had any experience of them and, hopefully, never will.
I understand the importance of these rights being in the Constitution. In the past couple of years we have heard many horror stories from reports such as the Ryan report. This and other reports catalogued the misery of some young people in State care. I have doubts, however, as to how much the proposed change in the Constitution would have helped them.
The first provision of the amendment is very general. It lays out the foundation for the rest of the amendment, stating that all young people have rights and that it is the State’s job to protect and uphold those rights. This provision is important, as it does not differentiate between the weight, height, colour, race, ability or anything else of the young person.
Some people have argued that it is too broadly stated. I tend to agree with that but do not feel this is a reason to say no to it. We may not be there yet but this is a good stepping stone to further changes.
My few objections to the proposed amendment do not relate to its text, although I feel that more could have been done to give all young people more defined rights. My objections relate to the running of the campaign and how much of an impact the amendment will make.
Decades of inaction
My first objection relates to the difference the amendment may or may not make. Since 1970 there have been 17 major reports on the failure to protect young people in Ireland. That is 42 years of young people being mistreated, yet only now, in the midst of an economic recession, are we doing something about it.
Why did we not do something during the Celtic Tiger years when we were perfectly happy to throw money at everything else? I’m worried that because this change in the Constitution is coming at a time when we don’t have a lot of money the Government is not going to be able to uphold its duty to protect young people.