Monday, April 17, 2006
Irish Constitution 'puts children at risk'
By Ann Cahill, Europe Correspondent
CHILDREN, particularly the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, are being placed at risk by the government's failure to amend the Constitution, according to child and legal experts.
Organisations representing children's interests are demanding an immediate referendum to amend the Constitution to give children equal rights with their parents and provide them with legal protection.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child will be asked to put its weight behind this demand when members visit Ireland tomorrow.
Those most vulnerable include: abandoned children of married parents who cannot be adopted; those under 18 years committed to a psychiatric hospital by their parents; children who are the responsibility of the state and children abused by theirparents.
Ireland signed up to the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, but because of the Constitution it has not been integrated into Irish law.
Jillian van Turnhout, chief executive of the Children's Rights Alliance, said: "We are going in hard on this because we have a lot on paper about children's rights and the need to protect them, but in reality there is very little."
Dr Lucy Smith, who is drawing up the report on Ireland, will meet the Alliance, its legal expert Geoffrey Shannon and the Ombudsman for Children Emily Logan in Dublin tomorrow.
Mr Shannon said under the Constitution children's rights come second to those of their parents.
"This is a fundamental issue and the rights of children will never be recognised in Ireland until this is done. You find that everywhere you need changes in child law the Constitution blocks it," he said.
"Under the Constitution you can still argue that the Irish family is an independent republic beyond interference from anybody. Children are often in a twilight zone and the courts refuse to step in," he said.
Change has been recommended several times in the past including by the Kilkenny Incest Investigation in 1993, the Constitution Review Group in 1996 and in the Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in 1998.
"An entire generation has grown up since the need for change was recognised but the seriously disadvantaged and the most vulnerable continue to get second best," Mr Shannon added.
Also See: Children's Rights Alliance