Thursday, 8 November 2012

BR article on Children's Rights Referendum.

However, the new clause will not state what these rights are. It will be up to the courts to identify them as they arise in specific cases. In doing so the courts are likely to be guided by previous judgments and by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland has signed.
–Carol Coulter, The Irish Times, October 17, 2012 SINCE 1998 there has been sustained and consistent pressure on the Irish government reporting to the UN to meet obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).1 The UN is demanding that children be recognised as separate rights holders. The pressure is enormous. During these confrontations, which take place in the UN’s Geneva Palais des Nations, both the Irish delegation and the UN Monitoring Compliance Committee state that the Irish Constitution is an obstacle in the way of meeting this demand.2 The Irish delegation in 1998 has reassured the Monitoring Committee that the necessary change to clear this constitutional obstacle is underway. Throughout these detailed proceedings the Irish government gave ample evidence of its willingness to be fully compliant with the Monitoring Committee’s demands. Having read the proposal for the 31st amendment from a sociological as distinct from a legal background, my concern is that to separate the child thuswill fragment the unity of the family as the primary cell of society. For fathers and mothers like us—and we are many—the care and protection of children are our life’s work and its fulfillment. The provisions of the Irish Constitution ensure recognition of that calling while, as Justice O’Flaherty (retired) affirms, providing protection for those children who are tragically failed by their parents. More background is necessary to account for the concern this amendment provokes. Revolutionary ethos The establishment of the autonomy of the child is affirmed as the objective in the summary records of the UN Monitoring Committee. Up to now Irish parents and the law limit children’s autonomy in the short run in order to maximize their development of actual autonomy in the long run but now the UN wants the child to be an active participant in the formulation of policies affecting them. This ethos that sees the child as an autonomous rights holder is both innovatory and revolutionary. The Monitoring Committee is adamant that both our attitudes towards children and our policies and services are to be brought into line with its “holistic spirit”. Now the amendment to incorporate Article 42A does not specifically mention the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. You will however find reference to it in the Ombudsman for Children Act 3 , a piece of legislation, among others, put in place as a direct response to Monitoring Committee’s pressure. Emily Logan, current holder of that office, assured the recent UN Periodic Review that it is statutorily mandated to promote the principles and provisions of the CRC and that it aims to ensure that Ireland complies in full with its international human rights obligations. 4 The Ombudsman’s office (OCO) tells children, “The government has a responsibility to make sure your rights are protected.” 5 Reading what is said there about Articles 4 and 5, the UN seems to be redefining the role of parents as merely their children’s helpers in exercising their rights. Look at the CRC’s Articles 13-17 6 and ask yourself honestly how can we steer our children safely through adolescence and yet observe their UN social rights. Emily Logan warns us that, “Building a new culture of respect for children in Ireland will take time and effort.” But is it as reassuring as she thinks to be told that holding this referendum “provides Ireland with the chance to be a leader on [UN] children’s rights internationally”?7 The Alliance for Children, Barnardos, ISPCC and the Campaign for Children are among her collaborators working to achieve this cultural shift. What role do these groups play in so changing our culture, our way of life? Such associations/organizations/politicized charities are generally referred to as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) despite being largely funded as service providers by both government and by philanthropies. (Chuck Feeney’s Atlantic Philanthropies, in this case) Establishing new needs, such as the child’s for UN rights, they are then funded to service these needs while promoting their acceptance at the level of social rights. Here in Ireland, selected NGOs are incorporated into the Community Pillar of the Social Partnership, as is now the voice of children, where programmes for government are agreed. There is a strong tendency in such organizations, infused as they are with a utopian vision of equality, to see the family as an obstacle to “gender” equality and autonomy. Utopian vision of equality Within the forums of the UN and EU these local NGOs are gathered under umbrella organizations which are presented in an effort to offset the democratic deficit as representatives of the “voice of the people”. There they enjoy privileged access to decision-makers and to the bureaucracies that channel funding directed to community development/combat poverty programmes. The CRC was actually drawn up by NGOs and it expressly gives them the monitoring role in its implementation.8 Their published reports like “Small Voice, Vital Rights” are written to alert the Monitoring Committee to where we are not meeting our obligations under the CRC. That Committee has classified Irish government reports as exemplary in their adherence to UN guidelines; such professionalized NGOs may have helped in the drafting; they may even be included in government delegations. Yet in all these proceedings the family is an outsider. Even if its numbers are large, the family has no voice in relation to such access to power and resources. Constitutional preference diluted Mr Justice Hardiman of the Supreme Court has acknowledged how the rights of children have to be vindicated through adults. The risk of turning children into autonomous rights holders is that the intervention of third parties, such as these NGOs will dilute the constitutional preference for parents as guardians/enablers of such rights. Childline’s phones are lifelines for some children but we have all met the exasperated parents of children who respond to their admonitions by threatening to contact the ISPCC. Leaf through “Citizen Child”, its manifesto used in its countrywide counselling centres and here we find children’s UN rights spelt out in detail.9 In response to asking, “What Needs to be Done?”, ISPCC proposes a Constitutional amendment. The specific acknowledgement of the independent rightsof children would, they say, clear the way for legislating to allow children to seek medical help or counselling without parental consent. 10 A focus of the 1998 Monitoring Committee’s concern was how do our under-16 year olds fare on this issue. How will the case for children’s confidential access to medical advice and services be strengthened by the proposed amendment? By 2006 the UN Committee is concerned that adolescents have insufficient access to necessary information on “reproductive health”, noting that Health/Sex education (SPHE) is optional, and that Irish parents can exempt their children. It recommends strengthening efforts to enhance adolescent access to “adolescent-specific reproductive and sexual health information and services”.11 Will the proposed re-wording of current (to be deleted) Article 42.5 and its repositioning facilitate removal of the Constitutional obstacle to allowing a legal framework for making Social Health (Re-) Education Programmes compulsory for Irish children in line with the Monitoring Committee’s recommendation? Once this amendment is in place, the Minister is to announce an ambitious programme including the development of “legislation, policies or procedures to extend this ‘voice of the child’ approach to other spheres of decision-making. Similar to ‘best interests’ this principle is already recognised in existing child care and family law and will be included in further legislation in these areas affecting children. The UN sells the CRC as invaluable for human rights activists to promote “this new concept of separate rights for children with the Government accepting responsibility of protecting the child from the power of parents...” 12 Acceptance of this amendment may not only deprive parents of the power to protect their children but may also facilitate the separating out and politicization of the voice of our children. Their voice will then be added as another category of NGOs lobbing for an equality agenda in which the family is an outsider or even an obstacle to its achievement. Liz Holmes lectures on the role of the UN/EU in changing our culture. In addition to The Brandsma Review her work has been published in Studies, The Irish Times and the prestigious US journal Catholic Social Science Review. NOTES 1 In the CRC children refers to all those under the age of 18. 2 See item 35 where it is noted that in 1997 the Minister who had introduced the Children’s Bill said that he been advised by the Attorney-General that potential constitutional difficultes existed in relation to the provision relating specifically to the rights of the child, which had therefore been reworded. CRC/C/SR.436 3 See Ombudsman for Children Act (2002), Chapter 3, Part 2, S.7 “ d) promote awareness among members of the public (including children of such age or ages as he or she considers appropriate) of matters (including the principles and provisions of the Convention) relating to the rights and welfare of children and how those rights can be enforced,.” And (6) In this section ‘‘the Convention’’ means the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child done at New York on 20 November 1989, as amended by any protocol thereto that is for the time being in force in the State. 4 Ombudsman for Children’s Office (OCO) Ireland Submission to the United Nations Universal Periodic Review Twelfth session of the Working Group on the UPR, Human Rights Council 6th October 2011. 5 See OCO website for UNICEF’s summary of the CRC. 6 Available at: 7 Ombudsman for Children Website, Opinion Piece 18th Sept. 2012 8 Article 5 (a). 9 ISPCC (undated) Citizen Child: A Handbook of Children’s Rights and Entitlements and Adult Responsibilities for Parents and Those who Work with Children, Dublin. 10 Ibid.,p. 30 11 CRC/C/IRL/CO/2 p. 11, paras. 52, 53 12 UN 1994/95 Publications Catalogue at p. 64

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