Monday, February 22, 2010

Children's Rights

For some time now, so-called ‘children’s rights’ groups have been trying to have a specific reference to the rights of children inserted into Bunreacht na hÉireann, the Constitution of Ireland. This is related to the incorporation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child into Irish law (it was signed up to by the Irish Government nearly twenty years so, but it has yet to be made part of Irish law). At present, Article 41 of the Constitution of Ireland bears the title ‘The Family’. It is a very sane, sensible and comprehensive statement, declaring that:
‘The State recognises the Family as the natural primary and fundamental unit group of Society, and as a moral institution possessing inalienable and imprescriptible rights, antecedent and superior to all positive law.
‘The State, therefore, guarantees to protect the Family in its constitution and authority, as the necessary basis of social order and as indispensable to the welfare of the Nation and the State. […]’

So far, so good, you might say. There are other clauses or sub-sections that are part of the same Article, but the two quoted above are the most relevant here.
Article 42 of the Constitution of Ireland bears the title ‘Education’, and, among other declarations, states:
‘The State acknowledges that the primary and natural educator of the child is the Family and guarantees to respect the inalienable right and duty of parents to provide, according to their means, for the religious and moral, intellectual, physical and social education of their children. […]
‘In exceptional cases, where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty towards their children, the State as guardian of the common good, by appropriate means shall endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.’
Just last week, however, an all-party parliamentary group agreed to a replacement wording for Article 42 (whose title would be changed to ‘Children’), and it is planned that this change will be put by the people for acceptance by way of a Referendum.

But – the new wording seeks to prioritise rights for children, and the reference to ‘Family’ is deleted. Where, formerly, children could in exceptional circumstances be removed by the State ‘by appropriate means’, the proposed new wording would allow children to be removed ‘by proportionate means’ from their parents ‘regardless of their marital status’. Children could be removed from their parents and placed for adoption even if their parents are married. This is a very serious situation, and it is even more so in light of the ‘Civil Partnership’ Bill that is at present making its way through the Dáil (parliament). Although this Bill does not specifically refer to the adoption of children, nevertheless it must be borne in mind that it is considered to be just a stepping-stone to the introduction of laws that would allow homosexuals and lesbians to adopt children. This is what such groups are calling for, and they will not be satisfied until they achieve their aims.

Mr. John Waters, writing in the Irish Times last week, said:
There are many sinister elements in this amendment, which most media voices, being on the same ideological hymnsheet as the Oireachtas committee, will refrain from pointing out, and may indeed seek to suppress. … The insertion in the Constitution of the ostensibly unexceptionable idea that “the welfare and best interests of the child shall be the first and paramount consideration” in all disputes concerning “guardianship, adoption, custody, care or upbringing” … of children, is the cutting edge of this underhand initiative. This would mean that, in marital situations, the previous inalienable and imprescriptable rights of the family will be supplanted by a pseudo-principle which is nowhere spelt out and which will be defined at the whim of judges, social workers and so-called “child experts”.
‘Whereas the State can at present intervene in families only in exceptional circumstances, where the parents for physical or moral reasons fail in their duty to their children, it will, if this amendment is passed, have the right to interfere, with force if necessary (by “proportionate means”) if parents are deemed by agents of the State, according to criteria not laid down, to have failed parental responsibilities. In other words it will replace an objective criterion with a subjective one. Should the State’s agents decide that parents have “failed “ for “such a period of time as shall be prescribed by law”, the child or children may be put up for adoption. […]’