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|Title: ||Advice of the Ombudsman for children on the draft general scheme for the criminal justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill 2011|
|Publisher: ||Ombudsman for Children Office (OCO)|
|Issue Date: ||Oct-2011 |
The Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence published the Scheme of a Bill to create a criminal offence of withholding information relating to the commission of arrestable offences, including sexual offences, against a child or a vulnerable adult on 13 July 2011. In addition, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs has indicated that she will bring forward legislation placing certain aspects of Children First: National Guidance for the Protection and Welfare of Children on a statutory footing.
These initiatives represent a significant development in the legislative framework governing child protection in Ireland. Section 7 of the Ombudsman for Children Act 2002 provides that the Ombudsman for Children may give advice to Ministers of the Government on any matter relating to the rights and welfare of children, including the probable effect of proposals for legislation. In accordance with this statutory function, the Ombudsman for Children’s Office has set out below a number of observations and recommendations on the proposals put forward by the Government.
This Office considers that the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Withholding Information on Crimes Against Children and Vulnerable Adults) Bill 2011 and the proposal to put Children First on a statutory footing consist of an overlap between them with respect to the issue of reporting abuse. It is acknowledged that the legislation relating to Children First will be broader in scope and address other issues such as inter-agency cooperation and information sharing1; however, the Children First guidance deals with arrangements for reporting child abuse and the General Scheme deals with the consequences for failure to report child abuse in certain circumstances. It is very important, therefore, that the obligations under each piece of legislation be consistent and that the overlap - as well as the differences - between them be clearly understood by those who will be affected by the legislation.
It is recommended therefore that both pieces of legislation be advanced through the Houses of the Oireachtas at the same time and, if possible, in the same Bill.
In framing these comments the Ombudsman for Children’s Office has had regard to international human rights instruments relevant to the welfare and protection of children, the experience of other jurisdictions in relation to reforming child protection systems and its own work in the area of child protection. Since the establishment of this Office, child protection has featured consistently in the complaints brought to its attention, as set out in the Ombudsman for Children’s annual reports to the Houses of the Oireachtas. In addition, this Office has on two occasions submitted special reports to the Oireachtas on the matter and it carried out a national systemic investigation into the implementation of the Children First guidelines. The findings and recommendations from that investigation have been appended to this submission for reference.
International practice with respect to reporting child abuse varies considerably. The threshold for reporting, the scope of the obligation to report, and the penalties incurred for failure to do so display significant variation between jurisdictions. The wider context of how child welfare and protection services are configured and how the relevant statutory authorities work together are also crucial to determining how effectively legislative reporting requirements operate. Indeed, these elements are among those that will be addressed in the Children First legislation and in the ongoing reform of child welfare and protection services in Ireland.
In light of international experience and the fact that a significant amount of change is taking place on both a legislative and operational level, it would be prudent to include a specific provision in the legislation under consideration requiring a review of its operation within a given timeframe. We must remain
open to changing our approach if required in order to afford the greatest possible protection to children.|
|Appears in Collections: ||Office of the Ombudsman for Children|
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