New children’s rights amendment must not give State sweeping powers of intervention in families

 

Press release by The
Iona Institute

16 February, 2010

New children’s
rights amendment must not give State sweeping powers of intervention in
families

The proposed new children’s rights amendment, published today, will require close study. However, a guiding principle must be that any amendment must not give the State more power of intervention in family life than it needs.

Overseas such powers have often been abused to remove children from their families in very controversial circumstances.

Commenting on the proposed wording, Iona Institute Director, David Quinn said:

“While the proposed wording will require further examination, we would be extremely concerned if this wording, while purporting to protect children, in fact gives the State more power of intervention in families than is required.

“An amendment that gives the State the same sort of sweeping power as exists in other jurisdictions will ultimately not serve the best interests of children at all.”

The current wording of the Constitution already allows the State to take over the role of parents in “exceptional cases”. This rightly allows children to be removed from their parents if they are being abused or neglected.

Five thousand children are currently in the care of the State under this provision.

However, under the proposed wording, the reference to “exceptional cases” will be removed, meaning the State can potentially take over the role of parents in far wider circumstances than at present.

The proposed amendment will also give recognition to a child ‘best interests’.

No-one denies that a child’s best interests must be to fore when making decisions about children, but the crucial question is, who gets to make this decision, parents or the State?

The Iona Institute agrees with Justice Adrian Hardiman when he said in the Baby Ann judgement, it is“quite untrue to say that the Constitution puts the rights of parents first and those of children second.”

Justice Hardiman stated: “The Constitution does not prefer parents to children. The preference the Constitution gives is this: it prefers parents to third parties, official or private, priest or social worker, as the enablers and guardians of the child’s rights.”

This principle is crucial in examining the proposed wording. Will the new wording mean that in too many cases, third parties such as social workers will, in fact, be preferred over parents?

In Scotland recently, children were removed from their parents because social services decided that the children were obese and therefore their health was at risk.

Removing children from their parents in such controversial circumstances is itself arguably a violation of the rights of the child.

In Canada, a father’s decision to prevent his adolescent daughter going on a school trip because she was posting ‘inappropriate’ images of herself on the internet, had his decision quashed by a court in her supposed ‘best interests’.

The proposed new wording will also allow married parents to surrender their children for adoption under circumstances to be decided by the Oireachtas.

The Iona Institute believes it should be made easier to adopt the children of married parents where those parents have manifestly failed in their duties towards their children, but we should be very slow to permit the adoption of the children of married parents where they have not failed in their duties.

ENDS

Contact details:

David Quinn, Director of The Iona Institute: 087 982 9910

Press release by The Iona Institute

New children’s rights amendment must not give State sweeping powers of intervention in families

Phone: 01 6619 204 Email: [email protected] Website: www.ionainstitute.ie