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We have the chance to create a society where children are truly safe

TODAY marks the 20th anniversary of Ireland’s ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This is an important day for Ireland, because this Convention has helped Ireland on its journey to become one of the best places in the world to be a child.



This morning, I’ll be celebrating the day by reading Walking Through The Jungle to a group of young children from Nurture Childcare Service creche in Dublin, who picked out the book themselves.

A good choice, as it sometimes feels like I’m walking through the jungle, when you want what’s best for a child – and to get real action on behalf of vulnerable children.

But today should be a day of celebration and there is much to celebrate.

Most importantly, on November 10, we will have the opportunity to vote yes in the Children’s Referendum and update our Constitution to better protect children – a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

Over the last 20 years, Ireland, as a society, has changed and the way we view and value children has changed, and the State has responded.

Twenty years ago we didn’t have a dedicated Minister for Children and Youth Affairs with her own department, who is in the process of overhauling our child protection system.



Abuse

And we didn’t have the Office of the Ombudsman for Children, where families are supported in battles to uphold the rights of their children.

This UN Convention is the most ratified UN treaty, with only Somalia, South Sudan and the USA not having done so – the latter because of their laws allowing children to be tried for the death penalty.

Respecting, protecting and listening to children are not radical sentiments.

Thinking about the rights of children, listening to their views, acting in their best interests, is something that parents do every day.

Deciding to read their favourite story today is about listening to their views.

And this constitutional amendment, which goes to the polls on November 10, is exactly the same thing – it’s about respecting, protecting and listening to children.

This referendum is a chance to bring our laws in line with our values as a society.

The amendment will help the courts and the child protection system work better, make better decisions on behalf of children and help Ireland move beyond its damning history of child abuse.

In total, there are 17 official reports that catalogue the way Irish society robbed thousands of children of their childhoods. The Constitution has been flagged as part of the problem.

Contrary to whisperings, it won’t change the status of the married family in the Constitution, which the State is obliged to guard from attack.



Mother

It won’t affect your right as a parent to decide what type of education your child receives or, indeed, their bedtime story if they’re intent on reading a horror story.

In short, it won’t affect your right as a parent to decide what’s best for your child on a day-to-day basis.

Raising and caring for a child is one of the most important things that you can do in life and it is especially difficult in the current financial climate. As a mother, I am not interested in making parents’ lives more difficult.

In fact, one of the reasons I’ll be voting yes in the Children’s Referendum is because, if anything should happen to me or my husband, I want the State to be obliged to listen to my child’s views and act in his best interests.

If anything should happen to us, I want the guarantee that the State will take my child by the hand, so he won’t have to walk through the jungle on his own.



Tanya Ward is the Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance. Walking Through The Jungle is by Julie Lacome


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