Tuesday 8 December 2009
ADOPTION BILL 2009 ‘CRITICAL STEP’ FOR CHILDREN’S RIGHTS SAYS ALLIANCE
The Joint Committee on Health and Children has been told by the Children’s Rights Alliance today (8 December) that the Adoption Bill 2009 (the Bill) is a critical step in bringing adoption legislation in line with international best practice, including the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and that it should be enacted immediately. The Alliance, a coalition of over 90 NGOs working to secure the rights and needs of children in Ireland, calls for the Bill to be child-centred, as adoption is the right of a child, not of adults. The Bill, which consolidates seven separate adoption acts and incorporates the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in respect of Intercountry Adoption, is a key legislative development that the Alliance feels must be enacted urgently, owing to its potential to greatly impact on the lives of children in Ireland and abroad, particularly in safeguarding against risks, such as trafficking. However, the Alliance also calls for a number of key areas within the Bill to be strengthened to ensure it fully upholds children’s rights.
The enactment of the Bill will bring about a new regime in the area of adoption, which will substantially impact on the operation of intercountry adoptions into Ireland. Mrs Jillian van Turnhout, Chief Executive of the Alliance, says: “This Bill has been a long time coming and after 13 years we are delighted that it will finally incorporate the Hague Convention as it is the best available framework for managing the risks associated with inter-country adoptions, such as the sale or trafficking of children. At all times, it must be remembered that adoption is the right of a child, not of adults, and we must ensure that this is not lost sight of. If anything is to be learnt from the recent publications of the Ryan and Murphy Reports, it is how crucial it is to have adequate systems in place to protect vulnerable children.”
Although the Alliance warmly welcomes the significant and long-awaited step of ensuring the direct incorporation into domestic law of the 1993 Hague Convention (as the international standard setter in the area of adoption) it is a matter of great disappointment that of the 55 country signatories, only Ireland and Russia have failed to ratify it. And this despite it making a real difference to children’s lives – the Hague Convention’s full implementation should be prioritised. Unfortunately, at times, the adoption system can fall foul to criminal activity, including corruption and the sale or trafficking of children. It is thus critical that a rigorous verification process be put in place for all adoptions and this Bill will standardise different levels of safeguards for national and international adoptions.
While the Alliance calls for the immediate enactment of the Adoption Bill, it outlines five broad criticisms: the need to strengthen the voice of the child and the appointment of a Guardian ad Litem; the need for transitionary measures that will ensure that no child is left in legal limbo between the 1991 legislative provisions and the enactment of the Bill; the failure to make provisions for pre- or post-adoption services to support the adopted child; the need to incorporate ‘best interests’ in the Bill; and the need to provide for statutory information and tracing services.
The Alliance is also concerned that the Bill fails to address children who are not eligible for adoption in Ireland. This issue potentially affects approximately 2,000 children who have been in foster care for a significant number of years and who have grown up with little or no regular contact with their birth parents but who are not eligible for adoption by their foster families. Mrs van Turnhout says: “All children, irrespective of the marital status of their parents, should be eligible for adoption. The difficulty arises from a constitutional block in respect of adoption cases and it is currently being examined by the Joint Committee on the Constitutional Amendment on Children, which is due to issue its final report to the Oireachtas on 16 December. In light of this we urge the Joint Committee on Health and Children to explicitly state their support for an amendment of the Constitution so that the rights of children of marriage and those in long term foster care are addressed at a constitutional level. Certain children, for whom a return to their birth marital families is not an option, are being denied the opportunity through adoption for a ‘second chance’ of a stable and secure family life. Let us stop children from drifting in care.”
The hearing will be attended by Jillian van Turnhout, Alliance Chief Executive; Maria Corbett, Policy Director; and Deirdre McTeigue, Director of the Irish Foster Care Association, which is a member of the Children’s Rights Alliance.
Notes to Editor:
The Alliance welcomes the incorporation of many of principles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) into the Adoption Bill 2009.
The four key principles of the UNCRC must be reflect in our adoption legislation and practice:
- Respect for the best interests of the child (Art. 3)
- The right of a child to life, survival and development (Art. 6)
- The right of a child to express his/her views freely and to have those views taken into account on all matters affecting him/her (Art. 12)
- The right of all children to enjoy all the rights in the Convention without discrimination (Art. 2).
In addition, there are four articles of the UNCRC that have direct relevance to the area of adoption:
- Adoption: Article 21 addresses the protection and promotion of children’s rights in the context of adoption. It establishes the paramountcy of children’s best interests in all adoption arrangements and details minimum requirements for adoption procedures.
- Right to identity: the child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents (Article 7)
- Preservation of identity: the right of the child to an identity and to, if necessary, a re-establishment of the basic aspects of the child’s identity - name, nationality and family relations (Article 8)
- Contact with parents: the child has the right to maintain contact with both parents if separated from one or both (Article 9)