Wednesday 24 January 2018

UN body calls on Government to end discrimination against children on religious grounds

Children from non-religious families are still being “discriminated against” in Irish schools, it has been claimed.
Children from non-religious families are still being “discriminated against” in Irish schools, it has been claimed.

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

A UN body on children’s rights has called on the Government to take urgent action to end the way Irish schools can discriminate against children on religious grounds.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) said there was a need for “concrete measures” to increase the number of non-denominational or multi-denominational schools and to change the law to eliminate discrimination in school admissions.

A report from the  committee published today also calls for reform of the Leaving Certificate  “with a view to reducing the stress caused to children, as  well as a raft of other changes in areas including education, health and  civil rights.

The recommendations on religion will add to pressure on the next Government to address the dominant role of the Catholic Church in Irish education.

The Catholic Church runs more than nine in 10 primary schools  and the law allows them to prioritise admissions in a way that will “protect their ethos”  -  most evident  in the way they give priority to children who have been baptised 

The Government is already facing a groundswell of demand for an end to the so-called “baptism rule” and  it has become  an election issue.

Groups advocating change say  there is no place for it in modern, multi-cultural Ireland, and that it leaves many parents unable to enrol their children in the nearest primary school if they haven’t been baptised.

There is  also anecdotal evidence that many parents, who are not  practising Catholics, baptise their children solely for the purpose of gaining entry  to their local school.

The UNCRC report is one of a series addressing issues concerning the rights of children. The last one relating to Ireland was published in 2006.

The report welcomes a  range of measures  taken in Ireland in recent years for the benefit of children, but  expresses concern that Irish schools “continue to practise discriminatory admissions policies on the basis of the child’s religion”.

It is also critical that children “are not ensured the right to effectively opt-out of religious classes and access appropriate alternatives to such classes.”

 The UNCRC  report  follows a recent public hearing attended by Children’s Minister James Reilly.

Welcoming the findings in relation to religion and schools, April Duff, Chairperson of Education Equality, said “the status quo is unsustainable. Many parents who are non-religious, or who practice minority religions, are unable to get their children into local schools and immediate action is needed by the incoming government to address this pressing human rights issue.”

EQUATE  is another group advocating for change and its executive director Michael Baron said “once again a UN Committee is recommending to the Irish Government that serious reform is needed in how our schools operate and I believe that the time has come for them to do something about it.”

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