Experts of the Committee on the Rights of the Child Commend Ireland on Receiving Ukrainian Children, Raise Questions about Roma and Traveller Children and Children with Disabilities
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today concluded its consideration of the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Ireland, commending the State on receiving Ukrainian children, while asking questions about the welfare of Roma and Traveller children and services for children with disabilities.
A Committee Expert expressed admiration for how Ireland had received children from Ukraine.
Clarence Nelson, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Taskforce for Ireland, said access for Roma children to basic services was still problematic; could this be addressed? Information had been received that the issue of suicide had spiked and was a particular issue for Traveller children and children in care. Were there any special measures for these groups? It was concerning that Traveller children comprised the largest ethnic group which suffered from disabilities. What special measures were in place for catering for Traveller children?
Mr. Nelson noted that many families in Ireland had not received services for their children with disabilities, including psychological support and speech and language therapy. What measures would Ireland be taking to address the shortcomings in the system for access to services? What kind of awareness raising campaigns were being carried out to combat the stigma against children with disabilities?
Introducing the report, Roderic O’Gorman, TD, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland and head of the delegation, said since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, more than 71,000 people had arrived in Ireland from Ukraine, and approximately one-third of the arrivals were minors under the age of 18. Children who arrived in Ireland as unaccompanied minors were received into care by the Child and Family Agency Tusla or offered services under the Child Care Act. All children received a full assessment of their needs to inform a care plan, which guided their placement and care while they remained in Ireland.
The delegation said the self-harm clinical programme was currently being implemented in paediatric hospitals in Dublin. It recognised that children within the Roma community were vulnerable and they were therefore identified as priority groups. Specific measures had been introduced in relation to Traveller health, as this group experienced health inequalities. The focus of the action plan was to improve and prolong the lives of this group, especially children. Data was now being collected on Roma and Traveller children in schools, and the Government had commenced regulations to provide for a Traveller identifier on the Social Housing Support to allow for evidenced based planning for Traveller accommodation and would support the Traveller Accommodation Programmes. The Government recognised that Travellers were represented in homelessness and aimed to address this through housing solutions.
Concerning children with disabilities, the delegation recognised that many children with disabilities had not been receiving their therapies and services in a timely manner, which had an impact on these children and their families. A key reason for this was the lack of staff. When the Department for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth would take over responsibility for disability issues in March 2023, the increased recruitment and retention of staff would be a key priority. There would also be a focus on increased communication between the health care providers and parents of children with disabilities, which had currently broken down.
In closing remarks, Mr. Nelson thanked the delegation of Ireland for the dialogue which had identified many challenges facing the children in Ireland, particular those who were vulnerable like Traveller, Roma, and refugee children. There was a strong Government commitment to improving the rights of Irish children.
Mr. O’Gorman thanked the Committee for the constructive and insightful dialogue shared. The review had been a valuable opportunity to outline areas where Ireland had made progress in protecting the human rights of children, as well as providing an opportunity to reflect on where further work was needed.
The delegation of Ireland consisted of representatives from the Department for Children, Equality, Disability Integration and Youth; the Department of Education; the Department of Health; the Department of Housing, Local Government and Heritage; the Department of Justice; the Department of Social Protection; the Department of Finance; the Department of Foreign Affairs; the Office of the Attorney General; and the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Ireland at the end of its ninety-second session on 3 February. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, will be available here. Summaries of the public meetings of the Committee can be found here, while webcasts of the public meetings can be found here.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Thursday 26 January to begin its consideration of the sixth periodic report of New Zealand (CRC/C/NZL/6).
The Committee has before it the combined fifth and sixth periodic report of Ireland (CRC/C/IRL/5-6).
Presentation of Report
RODERIC O’GORMAN, TD, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland and head of the delegation, said over the last decade, Ireland had made significant progress in improving access to high quality, affordable, early learning and childcare. Annual State investment in the provision of early years services had increased almost four-fold, from €260 million in 2015 to €1.025 billion in 2023. Data showed that more than 60 per cent of low-income families would not have been able to send their children to pre-school without the programme. For children with disabilities, the award-winning access and inclusion model was benefiting thousands, offering tailored, practical supports based on needs, and did not require a formal diagnosis of disability.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, more than 71,000 people had arrived in Ireland from Ukraine, and approximately one-third of the arrivals were minors under the age of 18. Children who arrived in Ireland as unaccompanied minors were received into care by the Child and Family Agency Tusla or offered services under the Child Care Act. All children received a full assessment of their needs to inform a care plan, which guided their placement and care while they remained in Ireland. The Family Court Bill was published in 2020, establishing a dedicated family court division. Legislation was enacted last year to extend and regulate the guardian ad litem system for children involved in childcare proceedings. Guardians’ ad litem ensured that the voices of children and young people were heard and acted as an independent voice to advise the court regarding the child’s best interests.
In relation to poverty and the current cost of living crisis, Mr. O’Gorman said the 2023 budget included a social welfare package worth almost €2.2 billion with many of the measures going towards families with children. This included increasing the working family payment, and double payments of one-parent family payment and jobseeker's transitional payment in 2022. Ireland was also focused on reducing child poverty and had announced the establishment of a new unit to co-ordinate this approach across the Government. In 2022, a significant expansion of the delivering equality of opportunity in schools programme provided for the inclusion of 322 additional schools, supporting over 240,000 students. Importantly, the new model took into consideration the significant educational disadvantage experienced by learners who self-identified as being of Traveller or Roma ethnicity, as well as those who were experiencing homelessness.
Over the course of the last decade, Ireland had successfully established world-leading participation structures to ensure children’s views were heard and taken into account in policymaking. A consultation process was organised with over 1,200 children and young people in 2021, throughout Ireland, on their rights under the various United Nations Conventions. The results of these consultations would help inform the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth’s future policy development, in particular the development of the National Policy Framework for Children and Young People 2023-2028. The new policy framework would focus on the areas most difficult for children and young people, especially those who were vulnerable. Mr. O’Gorman looked forward to an engaging and constructive discussion over the next two days.
Questions by Committee Experts
CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Taskforce for Ireland, warmly welcomed the delegation of Ireland to Geneva and introduced the Taskforce.
MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Chairperson and Member of the Taskforce for Ireland, asked if Ireland would consider having specific legislation for the purpose of incorporating the Convention? Ms. Otani was pleased to learn about the child rights impact assessment in the context of COVID-19. Were there any plans to develop a systematic child rights impact assessment? Would the upcoming Roma inclusion strategy address the gap in budget allocation? How would comprehensive and disaggregated data collection across sectors be ensured? The Committee was concerned about the financial independence of the Ombudsperson for children; could this system be changed? Was there State accommodation provided to vulnerable groups of children and their families? Why had there been no assessment of the tax policies on children’s rights since 2017?
Children in care faced delays in receiving residence permits; how would this be addressed by the Government? How was the Government planning to hear the views of children in the future review process? Were children born through surrogacy provided information about their origin? Ms. Otani noted the positive amendment in the new Education Act; however, she was concerned the act did not apply to private primary schools. How would the Government address this issue? Could more information be provided on plans to increase online access for children in disadvantaged situations? Was there a plan to raise awareness about the new Media Safety Act among children and their families, which introduced a complaints mechanism?
CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Taskforce for Ireland, said discrimination remained a major problem in Ireland, particularly against Roma children, those of African descent, and children of minority faith, among others. Children themselves had expressed concern about discrimination at all levels. What legislative protections were in place against discrimination? What mechanisms were in place to educate and advise children in cases of discrimination? Were these being actively used by children? Was there a current national strategy in relation to child suicide? If so, was it working? Information had been received that this issue had spiked and was a particular issue for Traveller children and children in care. Were there any special measures for these groups?
The issue with guardian ad litem was that it was limited to childcare proceedings only. Could the delegation provide views in this regard? How were children held at local levels? Was there a functioning children’s parliament? Were the children’s councils at schools functioning? What mechanisms existed at local and community levels for children to be held? Mr. Nelson applauded the family justice bill and strategy. Were plans being made for the implementation of this bill? Information had been received that facilities for new-borns in prison were not adequate, or non-existent. Were there measures to allow children better access to parents in prisons? What could be done to make these visits more child friendly?
Mr. Nelson asked how many children were in the voluntary care system? Were there any measures to phase this out, so children could be returned to their families? What channels were open for children with disabilities to make complaints? Were helplines available to children in care? Were there measures planned to support the reintegration of children leaving care? What measures were being taken regarding illegal adoptions?
PHILIP D. JAFFE, Committee Vice Chair and Member of the Taskforce for Ireland, asked if there had been an increase in the prevalence of violence against children? Had the lives of children in alternative settings changed? Was there any centralised data point regarding bullying and cyber bullying? How child friendly was the complaints reporting process on violence against children? Could these complaints be dealt with? What were the figures for abuse of children with disabilities? Information had been received that in cases that were reported, there was little investigation regarding abuse. Abuse by clergy in Ireland had generated a lot of attention. Had this been systematically addressed and had victims been able to come forward and have their needs met? What were the programmes in place aimed at targeting early marriage and female genital mutilation?
Responses by the Delegation
RODERIC O’GORMAN, TD, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland and head of the delegation, said children’s rights needed to be integrated across all departments. The influx of refugees from Ukraine had placed pressure on Ireland, and the State was doing its best to provide shelter and safety for those who had arrived. The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth was a key partner in a project funded by the European Union Commission on child rights assessment. The project would run over a two-year period over which time a report would be published, and the child rights assessment would be implemented. The Ombudsman for Children had presented a report which recommended a number of amendments to the 2022 Act, including strengthening the budgetary independence of the Ombudsman for Children. The Ombudsman was able to receive complaints, and the Department of Justice would respond to those.
The delegation said Ireland fully supported a two-pillar solution to see a reallocation of taxing rights. Legislation had been designed for adults to access their information; therefore, provisions were not made for children under the age of 16. A review of that legislation would be undertaken, and children would be consulted in the process. Fifty unaccompanied minors in care were awaiting allocation of a social worker. Draft legislation had been approved which removed the requirement for children who were 16 and 17 to provide for a gender recognition certificate.
The Admittance to School Act applied to all recognised schools. The family justice strategy was intended to address multiple issues which arose within the family justice system, including that there was always an expert to translate the voice of the child. The judiciary was independent of the Government and training was taken very seriously. Family law cases would be heard in special buildings. Many courthouse buildings were heritage so it would take time to bring them up to international standards, but this would be done in line with the family justice strategy.
The delegation said a new female prison was being constructed which would provide for 50 female prisoners. This would enhance the care in the female unit and provide care for mothers and babies. A project was underway to allow in-cell telephones to facilitate out-bound calls by prisoners from their cells. The online safety elements of legislation ensured that children would be exposed to less harmful online content. Ireland had also signed the Budapest Convention and was committed to ratifying it.
Several pieces of legislation protected against discrimination in Ireland. There had been no specific plan against racism since 2008; it was hoped this would be launched in March 2023. Ireland was also in the process of legislating for hate crime in the country, which previously had not been legislated. The law on incitement to hatred would also be changed, as it had never been successfully implemented. Several strategies were being examined, including the migrant integration strategy, to identify action points which needed to be outcome focused. The Government had made a decision to create an electoral commission to oversee the running of elections and research electoral policy. One of the first pieces was to research the possibility of reducing the voting age in Ireland, by examining the experience of Scotland, which had reduced the voting age to 17. These deliberations would inform the Government’s next steps.
Between 2017 and 2021, suicide rates for children in Ireland had stabilised. Work was ongoing to improve the information available on suicide in Ireland. Ireland’s strategy ‘Connecting for life’ contained measures targeting children, including capturing awareness of the link between suicide and drugs. The self-harm clinical programme was currently being implemented in paediatric hospitals in Dublin. It recognised that children within the Roma community were vulnerable and they were therefore identified as priority groups. Specific measures had been introduced in relation to Traveller health, as this group experienced health inequalities. The focus of the action plan was to improve and prolong the lives of this group, especially children.
The delegation said there were approximately 6,000 children in care in Ireland, with 89 per cent of those being in foster care, and the rest remaining in residential care. Foster care was seen as the best way to provide alternative care for children within a family setting. Greater safeguards would be implemented around voluntary care arrangements to ensure these arrangements did not drift on for too long. An independent reviewer had been called in to look at cases where an illegal birth registration had taken place. A report had been produced which stated this had probably occurred, but it would be difficult to confirm. A report was published in March 2022 which reported on discrimination experienced by children. A major project had been launched on children in care and a programme was in place to attempt to evaluate the policies being introduced. A new policy had been introduced which covered current and old cases of abuse.
Questions by Committee Experts
CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Taskforce for Ireland, said there was a concern that children’s issues would get buried among the other issues being addressed by the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth. Was this a legitimate concern?
FAITH MARSHALL-HARRIS, Committee Vice Chair and Rapporteur and Member of the Taskforce for Ireland, asked about the strategy for increasing the number of non-denominational schools. Should there be precise statutory guidelines on this provision, rather than leaving it to individual schools’ governance?
MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Chairperson and Member of the Taskforce for Ireland, asked about the answers provided on the independent monitoring mechanism for early childhood care; could such a complaints mechanism receive a complaint against non-State sectors? Did the Government plan to conduct its own analysis about the impact of the tax policy on children outside Ireland?
A Committee Expert said a number of measures had been taken to facilitate contact with children whose mothers were in prison. Were there alternative measures to deprivation of liberty when dealing with pregnant women or mothers with children under the age of 18?
Another Committee Expert expressed admiration for how Ireland had received children from Ukraine. Had Ireland considered allowing video recordings of child testimonies during the pre-trial stage?
One Committee Expert asked about measures taken to support single female households? Was corporal punishment prohibited? Could more information be provided on female genital mutilation? What was being done to combat female genital mutilation in Ireland? What were the staffing levels of the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth?
A Committee Expert asked if anything was done to try and track down the families of the children who came from Ukraine?
CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Taskforce for Ireland, asked if the Disability Act was being reviewed? It was concerning that Traveller children comprised the largest ethnic group which suffered from disabilities. What special measures were in place for catering for Traveller children? Concerning stories had been received about children with disabilities being forcibly restrained. What was being done to combat the use of restraint against children with disabilities? Many families had not received services for their children with disabilities, including psychological support and speech and language therapy. What measures would Ireland be taking to address the shortcomings in the system for access to services? What kind of awareness raising campaigns were being carried out to combat stigma against children with disabilities? Had the recruitment of children by armed forces been criminalised under Irish law? Why had Ireland signed but not ratified the Optional Protocol on sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography?
PHILIP D. JAFFE, Committee Vice Chair and Member of the Taskforce for Ireland, asked what the delegation’s overall assessment was on the health of the Irish child? Why were not all children of all ages entitled to free access to health practitioners? Could information be provided on hospital waiting lists for children? Were Traveller babies three times more likely to die compared to infants from the general population? What plans were there to feed the public health system with enough workers? What was being done to help children impacted by alcohol?
FAITH MARSHALL-HARRIS, Committee Vice Chair and Rapporteur and Member of the Taskforce for Ireland, commended the delegation for the increased access to early childhood education, which was an issue dear to her heart. Was there any analysis as to why socially disadvantaged students were most likely to be on reduced timetables and to be suspended or expelled? Could the curriculum be expanded to cater to a more diverse school population? A lot had been done about the Traveller culture which was appreciated; how much of this was implemented at the local level? Were the people working in the schools given enough training and sensitisation to eliminate racial stereotypes and promote tolerance for children of cultural minorities?
In establishing a special education needs centre for children, did this mean there would be no aim for inclusive education? Did the locally funded schools have any barriers on who could be admitted? Had any attention been paid to the high dropout rates from minority communities? Was there any work being done for children who had suffered because of the pandemic? Were refugee and asylum-seeking children able to access education well? Was disaggregated data being used to inform school policy? How could asylum seeking children acquire visas? Access for Roma children to basic services was still problematic; could this be addressed? Ireland had been identified as a source of child trafficking; could Ireland legislate on this issue? The review of the Children’s Act was very welcome; it was hoped the review would address a number of the recommendations made under child justice.
Responses by the Delegation
RODERIC O’GORMAN, TD, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland and head of the delegation, said the Department for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth was created in 2014. After the 2020 election, the Department was strengthened, and now had a core focus on the issue of vulnerability. The Ireland longitudinal survey was a valuable source of data, however, more needed to be done, including collecting disaggregated data across minority groups. This would be improved through a nation-wide project. Data was now being collected on Roma and Traveller children in schools, and the Government had commenced regulations to provide for a Traveller identifier on the Social Housing Support to allow for evidence-based planning for Traveller accommodation and would support the Traveller Accommodation Programmes which were prepared by local authorities. The delegation said the national participation strategy set out commitments for all departments and agencies to ensure that children would be able to be involved in all areas which had an impact on them. Any impact of young people’s contribution was made known to them as soon as possible.
There was no dedicated funding line for Roma and Traveller groups. However, a national Roma and Traveller inclusion strategy had been developed, which addressed the needs of these groups. The review of the implementation of Ireland’s inaugural National Plan on Business and Human Rights concluded in 2021. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment and the Department of Foreign Affairs were now giving consideration to the next steps with a view to taking forward work on a second iteration of the national plan and would consult widely with relevant Government agencies, business representatives and civil society. The Department of Enterprise, Trade and Employment was actively engaged on a number of important European Union instruments under negotiation by the European Union. When concluded these instruments would be given legislative effect in Ireland and would form an important focus for the new National Plan. Ireland had signed up to the guidelines of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development for multinational enterprise guidelines to promote responsible business practices. Legislation had been introduced which protected children against corporal punishment. All professionals working with children had an obligation to report child safety concerns. There had been an increase in referrals of five per cent between 2020 and 2021 for child welfare and protection concerns. A portal had been set up to receive referrals, which was very user-friendly. Children were aware that they had the right to complain to the Ombudsman’s Office and the Ombudsman for Children.
The delegation said every child in voluntary care had a care plan, which was created following their initial assessment when they entered into care. Facilities were available within the court system for children to give evidence, including allowing children to provide video evidence in court, or evidence from a remote location. The legal age for marriage was 18 and it was no longer possible to be granted an exception for early marriage. It was estimated that there were 6,000 women who had received female genital mutilation prior to moving to Ireland. This practice had been criminalised in Ireland, and there were also two national strategies to address this issue, which included raising awareness of female genital mutilation among health care providers.
The national lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons inclusion strategy was committed to ensuring that these persons could benefit from mainstream health care services. The hospital and the interdisciplinary team worked with the families of intersex children, and only medically necessary treatment, including surgery, was carried out. A goal of the inclusion strategy was to ensure that appropriate guidelines were in place to prevent unnecessary surgery on intersex persons. Data was being gathered to inform these guidelines. The delegation said a new action plan was developed in 2022, which focused on bullying and cyber bullying.
RODERIC O’GORMAN, TD, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland and head of the delegation, said more needed to be done to fulfil the rights of persons with disabilities in Ireland, including for children. There had been a significant number of special education classes opened in primary and secondary schools across the country. It was recognised that many children with disabilities had not been receiving their therapies and services in a timely manner, which had an impact on these children and their families. A key reason for this was the lack of staff. When the Department for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth would take over responsibility for disability in March 2023, the increased recruitment and retention of staff would be a key priority. There would also be a focus on increased communication between the health care providers and parents of children with disabilities, which had currently broken down. Waiting times existed for the assessment of needs, and this had increased since the pandemic. A guidance had been developed to replace the existing assessment of needs, and combat long waiting times. Children did not require an assessment of needs under the Disabilities Act, and many children receiving therapies had not undergone an assessment of needs.
It was recognised that there were many challenges in the current mental health services, and this was being continually enhanced. The Government had increased funding to children, and adolescent services and specialist teams for eating disorders had been expanded. The Department of Health was determined to utilise technology to modernise the delivery of mental health care. Foetal alcohol syndrome was entirely preventable. If the average alcohol consumption level across Ireland was reduced, this would encourage women who were pregnant to take healthy action for their pregnancy. An act had been introduced which would have positive impact on foetal alcohol syndrome in Ireland. This addressed issues such as the marketing of alcohol and a minimum pricing, which prevented alcohol being sold too cheaply.
The delegation said access to sexuality education was essential for students. All schools were required to have a programme for this and teach all aspects, including family planning, sexual orientation and sexually transmitted infections. Elements of the programme could not be omitted on the grounds of school ethos. Schools’ admission policies were required to be published on the website. An act had been introduced which aimed to limit the places which could be provided to children of past pupils to 25 per cent. Data was being collected on reduced school days which would inform policies here. The school completion programme aimed to ensure children finished school and were able to transfer into further education or employment. A department had been established to determine the impact of COVID on students learning experiences and wellbeing, and what could be done to address this impact.
The Government recognised that Travellers were represented in homelessness and aimed to address this through housing solutions. Accommodation for Travellers was provided across local authority sites and Traveller-specific accommodation. Each local authority conducted an annual estimate of Traveller families living in their areas, which informed their Traveller accommodation plans, which were drawn up every five years. A range of measures had been developed in response to a report, in relation to one specific site, which found that Traveller children were not being granted adequate accommodation.
A domestic violence campaign called “Still here” ran during the pandemic. There was a 25 per cent increase in domestic violence cases during the pandemic. This increase was seen due to the pressurised situation of lockdowns, but also indicated an increase in awareness and willingness to report, which was positive. Ireland did not punish children who had been involved in hostilities, but rather took an outreach approach. The Children’s Act reinforced that the judge needed to determine if the child had the capacity to determine what they did was wrong. Ireland prosecuted and detained fewer children than the average European area; 10,000 children committed crimes every year, and most did not enter the system unless the crime was particularly serious. Roughly 900 children a year were prosecuted. There was one piece to legislate for the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, and once this was done, Ireland would be able to proceed quickly with ratification.
Questions by Committee Experts
CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Taskforce for Ireland, said it was the criminalisation of those responsible for recruiting children for conflict that the Committee was interested in; they did not expect Ireland to criminalise these children. What happened when refugees with children turned up at the border?
PHILIP D. JAFFE, Vice Chair and Member of the Taskforce for Ireland, asked when there would be zero children hospitalised in adult facilities? Ireland should make every effort to address the children in vulnerable communities to ensure they received benefits and social programmes.
FAITH MARSHALL-HARRIS, Vice Chair and Rapporteur and Member of the Taskforce for Ireland, said she understood there would be a comprehensive review of the Children’s Act. Did Ireland plan to stop the practice of persons over the age of 18 being trialled as an adult, even if their crime was committed when they were a minor? Would child friendly courts be established? How was child trafficking defined?
A Committee Expert asked if data was published on the births of intersex children? Was the treatment of intersex children postponed until they could provide their informed consent? Were there mechanisms in place to allow these children to receive reparation compensation for procedures they did not consent to? What was the basis on which children were sent to specialised schools? Had investigations been triggered on abuse committed in the past by the Catholic Church? What results had been received?
Another Committee Expert said it was a pleasure to hear about the progress which had been made by Ireland since they last met with the Committee in 2016. What was the timeline for the national Traveller education strategy?
MIKIO OTANI, Committee Chairperson and Member of the Taskforce for Ireland, asked if the private funded schools and secondary schools were still allowed to use religious grounds to refuse admissions? It was a concern that children above 14 may be deprived of citizenship if they committed a crime; this was a serious punishment with detrimental consequences. Could the delegation comment on this? It may not be easy for children to understand how their rights under the Constitution were guaranteed. Could additional information be provided on data on children’s enrolment in schools? The Committee was concerned about the impact of COVID on school attendance and about detention rates of children in vulnerable groups.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said Ireland frequently carried out independent economic research on tax policy. Designated accommodation centres had child safeguards in place and a new complaints process operated specifically for children in State-run accommodation. Family reunification was a vital protection for children in times of conflict. If they could not be relocated with their families, children were placed in care or foster care, and could attend school, which helped facilitate integration within society. Ireland had given effect to a statute within the International Criminal Court Act which made it a war crime to recruit a child under the age of 15 to participate in armed conflict. Regarding children between 16 and 18 and their recruitment, this would be kept under review. Racial profiling was not a feature of policing in Ireland, however, there had been tensions between certain communities. There was a person from the Roma community who served as a cultural mediator and liaised with the police to build bridges. There were a disproportionate number of Traveller children within the social justice system.
A child had never been deported from Ireland to a country where they had never been. Approximately one per cent of the student population currently attended special schools. The State had launched a commission of enquiry into child abuse to listen to those who had suffered abuse as children in institutions and to report and make recommendations. The report published in 2009 had revealed the extent of abuse suffered by children in institutions. The Residential Institutions Redress Act was enacted following this report, which provided redress to those who had suffered abuse.
A wide range of support was provided to all students to address barriers, including to Roma and Traveller children. There were nearly 8,500 Irish Travellers in primary schools and around 3,500 enrolled in the post-primary level. This data was based on self-identification, and therefore meant this may be a conservative figure compared to the actual number. Access to advanced education formed part of the national Traveller and Roma inclusion strategy.
Despite the accommodation challenges being faced in Ireland, families seeking asylum with children were provided with accommodation. After the war in Ukraine had broken out, Ireland was providing accommodation for 74,000 people compared to 8,000 people in 2019; 54,000 of those were Ukrainian refugees. Ireland was facing challenges in providing State accommodation and was being upfront about this through encouraging people to stay where they were if they were in a safe position to do so.
Medical cards were provided to the Traveller and Roma communities, as they were to any resident of Ireland. A decision to admit a child to an adult health unit was only done as a last resort and would only happen in a situation which had been clinically assessed. Children admitted to adult health units were provided with special support. Under the annual Education Act, schools were obligated to provide attendance records to the Government each year, to help the monitoring of attendance, school dropouts and expulsion.
Questions by Committee Experts
FAITH MARSHALL-HARRIS, Committee Vice Chair and Rapporteur and Member of the Taskforce for Ireland, asked how the issue with refugee accommodation would be dealt with?
A Committee Expert asked if there were programmes to support pregnant teenagers to allow them to continue their studies?
Another Committee Expert asked what would be done to ensure that every disciplinary measure taken in school was in line with the need for education and not punishment?
A Committee Expert asked what could be done to help large single parent families? What could be done to strengthen sexual education in schools? What was being done to ensure safe access to abortions?
CLARENCE NELSON, Committee Expert and Coordinator of the Taskforce for Ireland, thanked the delegation of Ireland for the dialogue which had identified many challenges facing the children in Ireland, particularly those who were vulnerable like Traveller, Roma, and refugee children. There was a strong Government commitment to improving the rights of Irish children. The Committee hoped the concluding observations would positively contribute to the journey.
RODERIC O’GORMAN, TD, Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth of Ireland and head of the delegation, thanked the Committee for the constructive and insightful dialogue shared. Ireland was committed to the treaty body process and valued the opportunity to engage in dialogue. The review had been a valuable opportunity to outline areas where Ireland had made progress in protecting the human rights of children, as well as providing an opportunity to reflect on where further work was needed. Ireland looked forward to receiving the Committee’s recommendations. Work on advancing the rights of children was ongoing for the State.
MIKIKO OTANI, Committee Chairperson, believed the dialogue with the delegation of Ireland was timely due to the global situation. She hoped the dialogue with the Committee would further strengthen the rights of children in Ireland. She extended best wishes to all children in Ireland.