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Ireland should incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) into its law, so that it is directly applicable here, a new report on children's rights has said.
The report of the special rapporteur on child protection, Dr Geoffrey Shannon (pictured), while pointing out that Ireland has already signed and ratified the Convention, called the fact that Ireland had yet to incorporate the document as “disappointing”.
The Convention is controversial because it gives children rights traditionally associated with adults such as freedom of association, religion and privacy.
The report claims that incorporation of the Convention “would have a positive impact on Irish law” and that it would “ensure that children’s rights are considered when policy is being drafted”.
The report says: “It would also permit individuals to invoke the convention in the court system and permit the courts to apply it as a matter of Irish law.”
The report also recommends the holding of a referendum to include children’s rights in the Constitution should be held as soon as possible and “says that a referendum wording should include reference to the right of children to be heard in all judicial and administrative proceedings affecting them”.
The UN’s monitoring body for the CRC is the Committee on the Rights of the Child. However, its approach to the issue has often aroused controversy.
In 2009, it issued a “General Comment”, to help interpret the Convention.
The Comment says: “The Convention recognizes the rights and responsibilities of parents, or other legal guardians, to provide appropriate direction and guidance to their children (see para. 84 above), but underlines that this is to enable the child to exercise his or her rights and requires that direction and guidance are undertaken in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.”
It does not say who decides when a child’s ‘capacities’ are sufficiently ‘evolved’ to enjoy a particular right. However, it does say that even children who have not yet learned to speak can form a view as to their ‘rights’.
States parties, the Comment adds, “should presume that a child has the capacity to form her or his own views and recognise that she or he has the right to express them; it is not up to the child to first prove her or his capacity.”
The Committee “discourages States parties from introducing age limits either in law or in practice which would restrict the child’s right to be heard in all matters affecting her or him”.
It adds: “First, in its recommendations following the day of general discussion on implementing child rights in early childhood in 2004, the Committee underlined that the concept of the child as rights holder is '... anchored in the child’s daily life from the earliest stage'.
“Research shows that the child is able to form views from the youngest age, even when she or he may be unable to express them verbally.
“Consequently, full implementation of article 12 requires recognition of, and respect for, non-verbal forms of communication including play, body language, facial expressions, and drawing and painting, through which very young children demonstrate understanding, choices and preferences.”