Children's rights - how come nobody asked us?
Saturday’s poll promises to take the views of children into account, yet many haven’t even heard about it
A LINE IN THE booklet from the Department of Children, explaining this weekend’s Children’s Referendum, says if it is passed, provision will be made to ensure that in all proceedings taken by the State concerning issues relating to a child, “the views and wishes of the child should be taken into account, as long as the child is sufficiently mature to make this appropriate”.
It is perhaps ironic then that the views and wishes of children in this referendum are nowhere to be heard, never mind taken into account.
Do children even know there’s a referendum being held on Saturday? Until a group in one Dublin secondary school was told about it two months ago, none of them had known it was on the cards.
Josh Sherlock (15), Ellie Tyndall (14), Kirsty Nolan (14) and Lucienne Palmer (14) are all third year students at Newpark Comprehensive. It was their Civil, Social and Political Education teacher, Susi French, who asked them in September if they knew there was to be a referendum about them on November 10th.
“The reaction I got was, ‘What referendum?’,” says French.
“They knew nothing about it. They decided they had better find out something. It has been really interesting for me to see how passionate they are about the issues, and about the fact no-one was asking them what they thought about it. They are very good at asking serious and searching questions.”
Kirsty speaks for all four when she says she was “really shocked” to hear about it. “I had never heard there was one and then to hear it was about us. We weren’t even told. And it affects us.”
Lucienne too says she was surprised that a referendum was being held on children and that children weren’t being included in the discussion on it. “I was appalled too to realise that even in the Constitution children are just to be seen and not heard, not listened to.”
Josh says he thought children had rights in Ireland. “Our parents are always telling us how lucky we are to live here and not in Africa and then it turns out we don’t actually have rights here.”
The discussions in class about this lack of visibility of children in the Constitution appear to have prompted in them some self-reflection on why, beyond just saying they should be listened to, they should indeed be heard.