‘Time is ripe’ for legislation to combat cyber bullying

Special rapporteur on child protection says clear legal recourse needed to tackle online abuse

The time is ripe for robust legislation to combat cyber bullying, the special rapporteur on child protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon has said.  Photographer: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

The time is ripe for robust legislation to combat cyber bullying, the special rapporteur on child protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon has said. Photographer: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Tue, Nov 19, 2013, 20:54

“The time is ripe” for robust legislation to combat cyber bullying, the special rapporteur on child protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon has said.

Speaking in front of the Committee of Health and Children this evening Mr Shannon said a clear legal recourse was required to tackle the problem of cyber bullying, something which had increased “exponentially” in recent years.

“The law must keep pace with technology in protecting vulnerable young children and must exist as an accessible recourse for those who are victims of abuses such as cyber-bullying,” he said.

“Cyber-bullying has created a readily accessible forum for bullies to target children and young people with little or no regulation or sanction,” Mr Shannon said. “A clear system of legal recourse is required to provide for an offence of cyber-bullying and to encourage victims to come forward, anonymously if needs be, without fear of retribution.”

Mr Shannon said that a review of the law on harassment under the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, needed to be undertaken to ensure that it “unequivocally provides” for the offence of bullying and cyber-bullying, as there were currently “very few” criminal convictions under the Act.

Mr Shannon also told the committee that one of the biggest challenges facing Irish society was the adverse consequences for the welfare of many children posed by alcohol.

“Recent reports have identified alcohol as being a contributing factor to children being exposed from their earliest years to poor parenting, neglect, abuse and psychological trauma.

“The failure on the part of society to comprehensively address the alcohol problem leaves the child protection system to deal with insurmountable consequences. In this regard, we should impose a ban on alcohol sponsorship of sporting events,” he said.

Mr Shannon also called on the Government to incorporate the right to housing into domestic law and to place special emphasis on this right for children.

“It’s about joined up thinking because when we talk about child protection we look at it in isolation but again it’s coming back to family support, proper housing and child protection (which) are all linked and they all need to be reviewed together”.