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One report heard from over 5,500 children between the ages of 2 and 17. Shutterstock/Kate Babiy
Children's Rights

'Significant gear change' needed to address children's rights shortfalls

The warning comes after the Ombudsman for Children’s Offices published two major reports that have been submitted to a UN Committee.

A ‘MAJOR SHIFT’ is needed in relation to children’s rights to build on the progress that has been made in Ireland over the past 30 years.

That’s according to the Ombudsman for Children, Dr Niall Muldoon, and comes after the Ombudsman for Children’s Office published two major new reports that have been submitted to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Pieces of Us, a reports by children and young people across Ireland, and a report by the OCO have both been submitted as part of an international monitoring and reporting process.

The reports have been submitted ahead of the UN Committee’s ‘constructive dialogue with the State’ which is due to take place in January.

While Dr Muldoon said the reports recognise areas where the State has made progress, the issues raised have highlighted different ways in which the State continues to fall short when it comes to upholding children’s rights.

He’s called for a “a significant gear change to address persistent shortfalls in consideration of children and their rights in decisions that affect them”.

The Ombudsman for Children added that “it is crucial that children are prioritised in a meaningful way” in the upcoming budget, and warned that children are “rarely” at the top of the list of considerations.

Dr Muldoon continued: “The pandemic demonstrated how the Government and the State can take innovative approaches, but unfortunately this capacity for innovation still has not been adequately applied to decisions affecting children.”

Pieces of Us

More than 5,500 children between the ages of two and 17 took part in an online survey for Pieces of Us, while over 200 children took part in focus groups between May 2021 and March 2022.

The OCO worked with the Children’s Rights Alliance Ireland and some of its members, and schools and youth organisations to undertake the online survey with as many children as possible.

Dr Muldoon said in this report, “children tell us that they are frustrated and disappointed with health services, particularly mental health services”.

Children expressed concern about long waiting list, with one 12-year-old girl telling the report: “We shouldn’t have to wait a year to see someone about mental health problems and it shouldn’t be a long tiring fight that puts pressure on the families and children already struggling.”

Concerns were also raised about education and the need for exam reform.

One 16-year-old boy said: “The education system seems to cater for one type of learner only. Too many exams and not enough continuous assessment. This can stifle creativity.”

Many of the children spoken to for the report had experienced bullying in school and man also felt that “schools did not listen to or believe them when they reported bullying or that schools did not report or investigate incidents properly”.

OCO Report to the UN

Meanwhile, the OCO’s report made recommendations in 43 areas where improvements are needed for the State to more fully meet its obligations to children under the UN Convention on the Rights of Child.

Dr Muldoon said “Budget 2023 is an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate its commitment to children by signalling that it will child proof budgetary measures and by introducing specific budget lines that ring fence funding for children”.

He added that “multi-annual budgets should also be introduced for children with disabilities to properly plan for their predicted needs”.

While the report welcomed the State’s efforts to offer those arriving to Ireland from Ukraine immediate access to education, it noted “concern about challenges experienced by children arriving from Ukraine as regards access to appropriate accommodation and education”.

The report also notes that “the negative impacts of the pandemic and associated restrictions on children were evident in complaints made to the OCO in 2020 and 2021”.

New issues arising in complaints included complaints about the ‘digital divide’, lack of clarity about State examinations, and the impact of the restrictions on children with disabilities, children in care and children in high-risk households.

The OCO has recommended that the State should “conduct a comprehensive child rights impact evaluation of the impacts of Covid-19 measures and associated mitigating measures on children and their rights”.

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