Children's rights vote urged by watchdog

 

A REFERENDUM to reinforce children’s rights should be held as soon as possible and steps should be taken to tackle escalating child poverty, Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan has said.

Ms Logan also criticised serious structural deficiencies in child protection and health services in a report to the United Nations that will form part of a review of Ireland’s human rights record.

The shortcomings include geographical disparities in the provision of child health services; the lack of an independent system to review child deaths while in State care; and a continued failure to inspect foster care services.

The ombudsman’s submission to the UN says the Government “should proceed at the earliest opportunity to hold a constitutional referendum on children’s rights”.

However, it also states that her office does not support a referendum at any cost. An amendment to the Constitution must make a difference to children’s lives by including the principles of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, it says.

Ms Logan said yesterday she was worried the new Government might move to dilute the wording of a proposed amendment in a manner that would not have the best interests of the child at heart.

She said there was a danger that wording agreed by an Oireachtas committee could be watered down in an attempt to get a Yes vote in a referendum.

“It is important we keep the best interests of the child in any amendment,” said Ms Logan.

The previous government proposed altering the wording of an amendment agreed by the committee to take account of concerns raised by government departments.

The departments feared the wording would prevent the deportation of parents unlawfully in the State and entitle children faced with expulsion from schools to legal representation.

The submission states the most common complaints made to Ms Logan’s office are from children in State care. Many do not have a social worker and encounter difficulties in accessing services to help with their drug-alcohol problems or mental health needs.

It criticises the State’s child death mechanism, which was established last year under the auspices of the Health Service Executive to review fatalities in State care. “This system does not provide institutional independence and should be enhanced,” it says.

The ombudsman says child poverty remains a significant problem. The percentage of children living in consistent poverty – a measure of those living below a specific income threshold and deprived of two basic goods or services – increased to 8.7 per cent in 2009, up from 6.3 per cent.

“Children are more likely to experience poverty than adults . . . and [this] has a wide-ranging impact on their health, education and well-being,” notes the submission. It urges the Government to outline policies to deal with poverty.

The submission will be used by the UN’s Human Rights Committee when it questions the Government on its human rights record at hearings in October.

MAIN RECOMMENDATIONS OF OMBUDSMAN FOR CHILDREN:

Hold a referendum as soon as possible to give greater protection to the rights of children.

Allow the ombudsman to investigate complaints by children in detention and by asylum seekers.

End the detention of under-18s at St Patrick’s Institution.

Set targets for eliminating youth homelessness.

Enhance the scope and independence of the national child death review mechanism.

Enable inspections of foster care services for children.

Prohibit all forms of corporal punishment.