Report on rights of the child is finally published
A CHILD should be treated as an individual citizen with standalone rights under the Constitution, a new cross-party Oireachtas report will recommend today.
The 120-page report by the Oireachtas committee on children's rights follows months of delays, 200 submissions, 65 meetings, two interim reports and constant wrangling over the precise wording of changes to Article 42 of the Constitution which will be voted on in a referendum.
The new wording for Article 42 will include a declaration on the rights of the child and list their rights.
It will also provide for the adoption of children of married parents in certain circumstances and alter the conditions enabling the State to intervene in order to protect the welfare and rights of a child.
The wording will give stronger rights to children in the hope of providing for more child-focused court decisions.
The Oireachtas committee has been meeting since November 2007, but has been dogged by extensions and debate.
At one point, the Government backed off from holding a referendum, signalling changes could simply be made through legislation in the Dail. But the revised Programme for Government between the Greens and Fianna Fail last September committed to holding a referendum based on the findings of the Oireachtas committee.
The breakthrough on the wording for a referendum follows the recent Murphy and Ryan reports and the 'Baby Ann' case in 2006.
That Supreme Court ruling saw a two-year-old girl returned to the custody of her birth parents from her adoptive parents when they withdrew consent for her adoption.
Children's rights campaigners have claimed there is regular "sub-ordination" of children's rights to the rights of the family under the Constitution.
"What we are saying is that specific rights should be given to the child for the first time and for the child's voice to be heard in his or her own interest for the first time as a matter of constitutional right," one source familiar with the report told the Irish Independent.
The wording, which will be voted on in a referendum if approved by Cabinet, would still protect the institution of the family and the family's position under Article 41.
Up until now, every citizen had rights under the Constitution but the rights of children were mediated through the family under Article 41. In the past, there were "very high hurdles" that needed to be overcome before the welfare of the child could become paramount in terms of the institution of the family, another source said.
The idea is to see, for the first time, the child as an "individual citizen holding rights in and of him or herself to be vindicated on that basis alone if the child's rights are impugned".
Another source added today's report would ensure the rights of children "shine through".
"That doesn't mean we are setting aside the institution of the family or that there will be an easy penetration of the family by any external force on behalf of the State or anybody else but it does mean that a child will be seen as a constitutional individual who has standalone rights that need to be vindicated," the source said.
Finance Minister Brian Lenihan has already pledged €3m for holding a referendum.
Social and Family Affairs Minister Mary Hanafin hinted on Sunday that a referendum could take place on the same day as the two by-elections and Dublin mayoral elections later this year.
Speaking ahead of today's publication, Jillian van Turnhout of the Children's Rights Alliance said: "The time is ripe for a referendum on children's rights."