18 Nov 2016
Threats to Children’s Safety Spotlighted by Special Rapporteur on Child Protection
The Children’s Rights Alliance warmly welcomes the release of the Ninth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Prof. Geoffrey Shannon. The Special Rapporteur’s Report spotlights key threats to the safety of children in Ireland.
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, says: “Prof. Geoffrey Shannon has once again provided the Irish Government with a comprehensive and considered catalogue of the gaps that exist in keeping children safe. His report spotlights a number of new children’s rights issues and calls for important reforms to our child protection and welfare system.
Central to this report are children’s rights in a developing technological age, how children interact with others online, and how we respond to increasing early sexualisation of children resulting from access to the Internet. Prof. Shannon makes a number of recommendations for policy and legislative reform on this subject, which if implemented could save hundreds of children in future generations from becoming the victims of sexual abuse.”
The Children’s Rights Alliance has noted recommendations in a number of key areas:
Child-Friendly Justice and Child Victims
Prof. Shannon continues his focus on the justice system and child victims of crime. Children who are victims of crime are an extremely vulnerable group. This includes children who have been abused and who must give evidence in court as well as child witnesses to a crime. He is calling for “greater assistance for professionals working with children in proceedings” and for children to have representation in all cases. He is also calling for child-sensitive interviewing of child victims of crime and for specialised criminal and civil courts to cater for children’s cases, which currently exist in commercial courts and could be adapted to benefit vulnerable children.
Consent Education and Sexual Offences
The Special Rapporteur is also concerned about therapeutic and support services for children. He highlights the need for adequate sex education to teach children and young people about consent and to challenge the concept of ‘victim blaming’ or holding the victim responsible for sexual violence or crime committed against them.
Shannon is commenting on provisions in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill which allows for children to give evidence in court behind a screen in certain circumstances. He states that: “This should be avoided whenever possible”. Prof. Shannon calls for the urgent passage of the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill that is currently before the Houses of the Oireachtas.
The report highlights the fact that the Gardaí don't have the power to search and seize mobile phone devices outside the home that can be used to view images of child sexual abuse.
The report also calls for the Gardaí to be given better powers with the necessary safeguards to hand over data and information from companies like Google and Facebook that could be used in prosecutions for offences relating to images of child sex abuse.
Children’s Digital Rights
For the first time, Prof. Shannon discusses the right to be forgotten, pinpointing the risks to children that exist in the online world. Activity on social media may be instant, but the unintended consequences for children when they post something online can last beyond childhood. Prof. Shannon states that:
“The relevance for children of the ‘right to be forgotten’ should be acknowledged, children should be educated about the matter, and it should be understood that the age at which an individual posts information online should be considered a very important factor in decisions about whether to remove an individual’s personal information from sites”. At the same time, Shannon is calling for parents to be educated on how to combat cyber-bullying.
Children with Disabilities and Protection from Discrimination
Prof. Shannon also brings a special focus to children with disabilities in his report. This is very relevant in the context of the ‘Grace case’ and the attention that it has brought for the treatment of children with intellectual disabilities. He is asking if there are sufficient concrete measures for protecting children with disabilities who can often be more at risk of abuse. Shannon is calling for an examination of the effectiveness of the Government’s Stay Safe Programme (a personal safety skills programme for specialised mainstream primary schools) for children with disabilities. He is also calling for Ireland to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Young People in the Justice System
For children in trouble with the law detention should be a measure of last resort. Against the backdrop of progress in the youth justice area and difficulties at the Oberstown Detention Campus, this report calls for more imaginative community sanctions for children. While the Garda Diversion Programme has been extremely successful over the years, there are other, new diversion models in operation in other jurisdictions that should now also be explored. It is also calling for further attempts to “avoid the use of force, including restraint, of children in custodial settings”.
Right to Play
Children have a right to play, recreation, rest and participation in the arts. Shannon calls for child protection training and standards for people working in the field of play. He highlights the fact that children from disadvantaged groups lose out the most when it comes to play and recreation. Prof. Shannon highlights the serious and immediate developmental impact this is having on children and calls for a Government-led national strategy to address this and make sure that all children can access this basic right.
Other issues detailed in Prof. Shannon’s report include direct provision for asylum seekers, which he recommends should be abolished. In the interim, he suggests that living standards in direct provision centres should be improved. He also focuses on poverty and calls for national measures to address the nutritional needs of families.
The Children’s Rights Alliance is calling for urgent action on the key recommendations in the Special Rapporteur’s report and for it to be fully debated in both Houses of the Oireachtas.
For further information, please contact:
Emma McKinley, Communications & Development Manager
01 662 9400 / 087 655 9067
Note for Editors
• Tanya Ward, Chief Executive is available for interview
• The Ninth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection is here.