pills serif;”>Orla Price takes account of the issues underlying the Children’s Rights Referendum

capsule serif;”>On the tenth of November, we will be asked to vote on the Children’s rights referendum. All of the major political parties are in support of the referendum; on one hand it is great to see how the issue of rights has transcended political boundaries, on the other it is important to look at the wider context of being a child in this country and what exactly is being done to further support the rights of children. The referendum should be welcomed but should also be used to highlight the situations where the rights of children are being undermined.

The wording of the constitutional amendment does not limit the rights of children to those who are citizens of the state. In this regard, it is important to look at the rights of children who are seeking asylum in this country. Over one third of asylum seekers in Ireland are under-18 which amounts to approximately 2000 children. Recently the Refugee Council of Ireland published a report outlining the situation for children living in direct provisional accommodation in this country. Direct provision is the term given to the accommodation provided by the government when someone is going through the asylum process. Whilst in direct provision, asylum seekers receive nineteen euros and sixty cents per week; this is supplemented by nine euro sixty if you have a child. Asylum seekers have no right to work in Ireland. This has created a poverty trap. On average, the asylum process in Ireland takes up to four years. However there have been cases where people have been seeking asylum for over eight years. If you compare this to other European countries Ireland falls well under par. In Switzerland for example, on average the process takes six months. This can amount to an entire childhood in direct provisional accommodation.

The conditions of direct provisional accommodation are not conducive to the health of a child either. Often located in rural areas with no public transport, children are socially excluded having no participation in extra-curricular activities or outings. Spaces are confined which inhibits privacy and facilitates the spreading of illness. Cases of malnutrition have been recorded in these centres, where parents do not have the finance to subsidise the meals provided already by the government. There is a lack of resources, play areas, toys and books which parents are unable to afford to buy themselves. Review of the system has been talked about no conclusive action has been taken to alleviate the situation. Conditions need to be improved and the process itself needs to be looked at. Allowing parents to work and speeding up the application procedure could lead to a better quality of life for the children and families involved.

Another issue which needs attention is children in the mental health system. There is an official ban on children and adolescents in adult psychiatric wards yet despite this, there have been re-occurring cases of children and adolescents being contained in adult psychiatric facilities. There were 131 cases of those under 18 being admitted to adult psychiatric wards last year. It is unbelievable that this is still happening, childhood and adolescence are already vulnerable years, and this combined with the experience of mental illness can make this a very turbulent time. To be contained not amongst your peers but isolated because of your age amongst adults make this experience even more difficult and indeed damaging to mental health. The Irish government committed to spending 35 million a year on the improvement of mental health services yet little of this money was seen. It is important that we put pressure on the government to uphold this promise, highlighting especially the situation for children in this country.

Special needs resources have already been cut, with the loss of many special needs assistants in schools. Now the matter of ending disability payment allowances for those under eighteen is on the agenda and replacing it with a care package for the parents. The implications of this really need to be thought about, households of a young person with a disability could lose thousands a year should this go ahead. There is still no guarantee of entitlement of support in the home for parents of children with severe brain damage. The standard of education and support a child receives and the financial situation of the household they live in all contribute to their inclusion and integration in society, in this way children with special needs and disabilities who are already disadvantaged should be given the highest level of support in order to ensure they are not disadvantaged further by exclusion.

The rights of children is of course directly related to other issues such as unemployment which creates child poverty and which has increased since the recession, however even in the affluent times of this country, we still had a relatively high level of child poverty for Europe. This leads us to the question of whether there a more fundamental problem behind these issues. Is this perhaps a result of a system which continually facilitates gaps in access to education and health care? Socio-economic position is a determinant of the health care and education you receive and certainly the standard of education you receive can help create your socio-economic position leading to a cyclical trap. There are parents in Ireland who can afford private health insurance so their children benefit from not entering a system of waiting and delays. There are parents who can afford to send their children to private schools which benefit from better services and facilities because of state funding and fees.

These issues can then play into the issue of criminality among the young, those who grow up in poverty are more likely to engage in crime when they grow older and then have the potential to end up in institutions like St. Patricks where forcible stripping, bullying, intimidation and poor conditions are all present. In this case we are again presented with a cycle where children’s rights are further violated, when it was neglect to provide equal rights in the first place that could have contributed to their position. In order for the cycle to be broken, equality of access needs to be afforded to all children no matter what the status of their parents may be.

All of these issues need to receive particular attention as alongside the Children’s rights referendum, Ireland is standing for election to the human rights commission on the 12 November; in this regard we really need to increase pressure in order to make sure standards must be continually improved for the rights of children in this country.

By Orla Price