And now what about that other referendum?
IN RECENT WEEKS the Vatican’s poor response to past abuse has been disturbing, while a forthcoming report into the deaths of young people in State care is set to make for “harrowing reading”, according to the Minister for Children.
But children have a right to safety and wellbeing, regardless of where or with whom they live. Safety of children is not just the remit of family, church and State services. It concerns us all. Would not any of us who witnessed a crime against a young person on the street or had a serious concern for a child act in his/her interest?
We hope our independent commentary as Unesco chairs on rights of children in the context of their parents and family (based on a review) will act as a helpful stimulus to the debate on the forthcoming referendum for children, and in particular, on the specific issue of children’s rights and how they link with the family.
The latter point may well prove to be the crux of the future debate on the referendum. It is an area we feel needs to be understood and respected – not distorted or manipulated for any politically motivated purposes.
We strongly believe that incorporating a stronger commitment to children’s rights in the Constitution would build a stronger culture of children’s rights in Irish society and is in keeping with international obligations.
There is an obvious pressing need to afford children’s rights greater protection in Ireland, and the express recognition of children as rights-holders in the Constitution is one important means of doing that. We are also clear that this would pose no threat to the rights of others in society.
While there is a general consensus that a child’s interests are best protected in the family environment, where a child is at risk within the family home or in the community, stronger recognition of children’s rights would allow the correct balance to be maintained between children and parental rights, and between a family’s right to privacy and the need for appropriate intervention to safeguard the child from harm.
An approach that safeguards children’s rights must be underpinned by clear and consistent obligations and services that will cherish all children equally and put “Children First”.
Our perspective is simple – what is good for children is good for their parents and ultimately to the benefit of civic society. Children’s and parental rights are in the main complementary.
Building a stronger culture of children’s rights in Ireland would strengthen the position of children, their parents and those advocating on behalf of children to defend the rights of the child, both in terms of the church and State.
There is every reason to expect a strengthening of children’s rights in the Constitution will help strengthen family and community bonds, and, importantly, send out the message to children and young people that they are cherished as individual rights-holders, as citizens who represent the best of our country not just in the future but in the here and now.
The slow start to the planned referendum on children – due to take place next autumn – is in stark contrast to the speed and urgency of the fiscal treaty referendum, something which young people may well notice.
That said, the commitment to hold that “other” referendum this year is one for which the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs should be commended, and we now wait to see what the exact wording of the referendum will be.
This is an important opportunity to strengthen children’s rights in Ireland, and we hope all parties approach the campaign in an open and honest way, making arguments based on evidence, and always with the best interests of children as the primary motivating concern.
Hopefully, the coming months will give us all the opportunity to debate the facts, to look at the evidence, to understand our international obligations, and perhaps most importantly, to decide what kind of country our children grow up in.
This year can be a defining year for children and young people in Ireland. And it needs to be – the best legacy that we can leave the next generation is a commitment that their rights are protected and enhanced and that they have some certainty in an increasingly uncertain world.
Prof Pat Dolan is the Unesco chair in Children, Youth and Civic Engagement at NUI Galway, and Prof Alan Smith is the Unesco chair in Education for Pluralism, Human Rights and Democracy at the University of Ulster