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The 'right to be forgotten' and consent education: The gaps in Ireland's protection of children

The right to play, giving more powers to gardaí, and the abolition of direct provision centres were also contained in the report.

Image: Shutterstock/Tomsickova Tatyana

A REPORT HAS recommended over 100 changes the government should make to safeguard children – including changing the law so that children’s information can be removed from the Internet (‘right to be forgotten’), and ensuring children’s right to play.

The report, compiled by a Rapporteur on Child Protection, is over 180 pages long, and discusses a range of subjects including the vulnerability of children with disabilities and the gaps in legislation in relation to technological advancements that leave children unprotected.

Other changes recommended include teaching children about consent in child sex abuse cases, and shielding children in court if absolutely necessary.

Tanya Ward, CEO of the Children’s Rights Alliance said that this report was different from others as it focused on children who were “left behind” – such as children in homeless accommodation and children in direct provision centres.

Speaking to RTÉ’s News at One, she said that although there were some ambitious longterm recommendations, there were also ‘interim ‘ suggestions made in the report.

Here are some of the most important recommendations made by Special Rapporteur Professor Geoffrey Shannon.

Consent education

In his report, Special Rapporteur raised concerns about and highlights the need for adequate sex education to teach children and young people about consent and to challenge the concept of ‘victim blaming’ or holding the victim responsible for sexual violence or crime committed against them.

Shannon is commenting on provisions in the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Bill which allows for children to give evidence in court behind a screen in certain circumstances.

He states that “this should be avoided whenever possible”, and the bill is currently before the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The report also highlights the fact that gardaí don’t have the power to search and seize mobile phone devices that they suspect of containing images of children if the device is outside the home.

The report also calls for the gardaí to be given better powers when requesting information from companies like Google and Facebook.

shutterstock_336928517 Source: Shutterstock/Subbotina Anna

Children’s digital rights

For the first time, Prof. Shannon discusses the right to be forgotten, pinpointing the risks to children’s online identity. Activity on social media may be instant, but the unintended consequences for children when they post something online can last beyond childhood.

The report says:

The relevance for children of the ‘right to be forgotten’ should be acknowledged, children should be educated about the matter, and it should be understood that the age at which an individual posts information online should be considered a very important factor in decisions about whether to remove an individual’s personal information from sites.

Children with disabilities

Shannon also brings a special focus to children with disabilities in his report.

This is very relevant in the context of the ‘Grace case’ and the attention that it has brought for the treatment of children with intellectual disabilities.

Shannon calls for an examination of the effectiveness of the government’s Stay Safe Programme (a personal safety skills programme for specialised mainstream primary schools) for children with disabilities.

He is also calling for Ireland to ratify the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Young People in the Justice System

There are also some harsh criticisms of the method of judicial punishment for children in trouble with the law detention -the report says that detention centres “should be a measure of last resort”.

Against the backdrop of progress in the youth justice area and difficulties at the Oberstown Detention Campus, the report calls for more “imaginative community sanctions” for children.

While the Garda Diversion Programme has been extremely successful over the years, there are other, new diversion models in operation in other jurisdictions that should now also be explored. It is also calling for further attempts to “avoid the use of force, including restraint, of children in custodial settings”.

Right to Play

shutterstock_394222996 Source: Shutterstock/Evgeny Atamanenko

The report calls for child protection training and standards for people working in the field of play. He highlights the fact that children from disadvantaged groups lose out the most when it comes to play and recreation.

Children have a right to play, recreation, rest and participation in the arts.

Prof. Shannon highlights the serious and immediate developmental impact this is having on children and calls for a Government-led national strategy to address this and make sure that all children can access this basic right.

Other issues detailed in Prof. Shannon’s report include direct provision for asylum seekers, which he recommends should be abolished. In the interim, he suggests that living standards in direct provision centres should be improved. He also focuses on poverty and calls for national measures to address the nutritional needs of families.

The report is due to be debated before the Houses of the Oireachtas in the coming weeks.

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