Human rights body recommends revision of abortion laws

Nearly 18 per cent of Irish children are now at risk of poverty, commission says in report

The Geneva-based United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child  will seek updates on the State’s compliance across a range of areas including access to healthcare. File photograph: Getty Images

The Geneva-based United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child will seek updates on the State’s compliance across a range of areas including access to healthcare. File photograph: Getty Images

 

The “legal framework on abortion” should be revised to protect the human rights of girls experiencing crisis pregnancies, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission has said.

The call is made in a submission to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, which will examine Ireland’s record on children’s rights later this week.

The Geneva-based body, which last examined Ireland in 2006, will seek updates on the State’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child across a range of areas including poverty, disability rights, Traveller and Roma children’s rights, migrant children, direct provision, education, access to healthcare, the justice system, family law and State care.

Minister for Children James Reilly will represent the State at the day-long examination on Thursday.

Recommendations

In its submission, the commission makes 59 recommendations across a range of areas.

On reproductive and health services, it says the Protection of Life During Pregnancy Act 2013, which sets out the circumstances when an abortion may be carried out, “applies in full to pregnant girls”. It highlights the absence from the Act of “accessible age-appropriate sexual and reproductive health services without discrimination”.

Noting the “constraints” placed on the State by article 40.3.3 of the Constitution, which protects the equal right to life of the pregnant woman or girl and the unborn, the commission endorses the recommendations of various UN bodies “that the State take all necessary measures to revise its legal framework on abortion”.

Consistent child poverty increased in 2013, to 11.7 per cent, while 17.9 per cent of children were at risk of poverty. The commission says the habitual residence condition, which sets out residency criteria to qualify for welfare payments, “can act as a barrier to vulnerable groups”, including the parents of migrant, asylum seeker, and Traveller or Roma children, accessing welfare payments.

Negative impact

Recent changes to the one-parent family payment, which link eligibility to the age of the youngest child, “impact negatively on thousands of working lone parents and their children”, are “regressive” and “not in line with the general principles of the convention”.

The changes to the payment should be reversed “in the absence of an adequate and affordable childcare system”.

On homelessness the commission describes an “integral link between the right to housing and the inherent dignity of the person”.

Progress on dealing with the housing crisis has been “slow” while complaints to the office of the Children’s Ombudsman “highlight the impact of the crisis on children”. While investment in social housing has increased, capital funding for Traveller-specific housing has decreased since 2010, it says.

The Government should “formally recognise Travellers as an ethnic minority as a matter of priority”.

On faith schools, it says the Equal Status Acts should be amended “to give effect to the principle that no child should be given preferential access to a publicly funded school on the basis of their religion”.