PARENTS who fail to report the sexual abuse of their child by their partner to the gardai face a jail sentence of up to 10 years.
It is the first time there will be a legal requirement for parents to report such abuse -- and there will be no exceptions.
Under the forthcoming law, a parent will also be obliged to report a partner to gardai if they seriously assault their child or take pornographic photos of them.
Justice Minister Alan Shatter called on families to live up to their responsibilities as he warned that a parent could be prosecuted for not reporting the sexual abuse of their child by their partner.
"One of the big difficulties we've seen in some of the more horrendous cases is where we've had young children abused in a family for many years to the knowledge of the mother, who had reported it to no one, and has engaged in a cover-up," he said.
Mr Shatter referred to an incest case in which a mother of six was jailed for seven years for incest, neglect and willful ill-treatment. Her husband was jailed for 12-and-a-half years for the rape and sexual assault of one of his sons.
Under this legislation, parents will have some discretion not to report cases of sexual abuse which have been committed by a non-family member. However, this will only apply in exceptional cases.
This is to prevent parents being compelled to report abuse if their child would be traumatised by garda interviews and court proceedings.
The Government is also providing safeguards for professionals such as counsellors and psychiatrists, who had feared that the obligation to report sexual offences to the gardai could deter victims from seeking help. They will not be prosecuted if they have a written record of the victim requesting them not to do so.
The State is also putting into law the 'Children's First' guidelines, which have been voluntary for the past 14 years. It will ensure that reporting of concerns about child abuse are made to the HSE by organisations and professionals working with children.
Children's Minister Frances Fitzgerald confirmed yesterday that the new laws would lead to sports clubs and other organisations being shut down with a "prohibition notice" if they were not providing a safe place for children
"Effectively we are saying that children's protection is everybody's responsibility. This is about removing any ambivalence about what you do when you are concerned there is physical abuse, sexual abuse or neglect," she said.
Under the system, volunteers in organisations that work with children will have to report any concerns about child abuse to a designated person -- and this person will in turn pass on the request to the HSE.
Ms Fitzgerald confirmed there were no provisions for raising concerns anonymously -- even though some teachers fear a backlash from parents.
Ms Fitzgerald said the HSE was already dealing with 30,000 child protection cases every year, including 1,500 confirmed cases of sexual, physical or emotional abuse.
Children's Rights Alliance chief executive Tanya Ward warmly welcomed the move to put the Children First guidelines into law. "The proposed legislation will ensure that every person interacting with children has a role to play and must take their responsibilities in reporting allegations of child abuse seriously," she said.