Age of Criminal Responsibility at 10 Years "highly illogical" warns Child Protection Rapporteur
The Children’s Rights Alliance warmly welcomes the release of the Tenth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Prof. Geoffrey Shannon. The Report spotlights key threats to the safety and protection of children in Ireland.
Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, says: “This is the tenth report by Prof. Geoffrey Shannon providing the Government with an audit of gaps exposing children to abuse, neglect and crime. Once again, Shannon has his finger firmly on the pulse as he pinpoints new risks to children’s safety as well reiterating longstanding concerns about Ireland’s child protection and welfare system.
Central to this report is Shannon’s proposal to increase the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years. Shannon also recommends the introduction of a so-called ‘Fagin’s Law’ to protect children from being groomed into a life of crime. His report hones in on how to support families to prevent children from coming into care and recommendations for reunification of families torn apart by the refugee crisis. Shannon’s report also raises crucial questions about how Brexit may adversely affect child protection and family law situations, exposing children to new risks.”
Tanya Ward concluded: “If the Government is serious about protecting children, these recommendations must be implemented. This will help prevent countless children from falling victim to crime and sexual abuse. We also call for this Report to be fully debated in the Houses of the Oireachtas.”
The Children’s Rights Alliance has noted recommendations in a number of key areas:
Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility
Shannon’s report recommends that Ireland raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years. He calls the current level “highly illogical” as a child aged 10 years simply does not have the cognitive capacity to be held criminally responsible for serious crimes like murder or rape. Children can’t consent to medical treatment until the age of 16 and yet they can be held criminally responsible at the age of 10. Increasing the age to 14 years is a recommendation from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and would bring Ireland into line with many other EU countries.
‘Fagin’s Law’ to Prosecute Grooming of Children into Crime
Grooming children for criminal profit should be made a crime, says Shannon. He points to real situations where gang leaders are grooming children, often their own family members to carry out serious crimes, like drug dealing. Children are being used by these leaders because they are less likely to be caught or because the gang leaders themselves are being closely watched by the Gardaí. It is vital to introduce a law to protect these children who are currently being groomed and used in this exploitative and highly dangerous way.
Impact of Brexit on Child Protection
The EU Withdrawal Bill that the UK Government has introduced to exit from the European Union will eliminate the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice. As such, Shannon warns that this will have a serious impact on children in Ireland in terms of family and child law. There will be potential loopholes in areas including custody and access cases, child abduction, child prostitution and trafficking. It is well known that paedophiles and abusers will exploit any legal loophole to abuse children and the full implications for children in Ireland are not understood. The Children’s Rights Alliance joins with Prof. Shannon in calling for an in-depth analysis of Brexit's implications on family and child law.
Offence to Purchase Sex from Trafficked Person
Shannon welcomes the introduction of new legislation on sexual offences, the Sexual Offences Act 2017 making it a crime to purchase sex. Still, the law is not sufficient to dissuade a purchaser from buying sex from a trafficked person. Shannon recommends an offence of strict liability to flip the current scenario so there would be an onus on the purchaser to prove they did not know the victim was trafficked.
Reuniting Families Torn Apart by the Global Refugee Crisis
The world is in the midst of a refugee crisis and millions of families are being torn apart by conflict and persecution. Shannon calls on Ireland to do far more, especially in the area of family reunification. Our present laws do not automatically allow for a family to be reunified here in Ireland in cases when most of the family may already be living here. The Minister for Justice and Equality retains complete discretion and can make decisions on a case-by-case basis. The integrity of families is being undermined because a family cannot always reunite, despite the horrific circumstances of their family members outside Ireland. Many of these are forced to survive in sub-standard refugee camps with no access to the services, supports and dignity that they deserve.
Lack of Support to Families
Children First legislation and guidelines are being rolled out nationally to protect children, a very positive step. Considerable resources have been allocated to dealing with the arising child protection reports to Tusla, the Child and Family Agency. At the same time, the investment and coordination in community based family support services has not happened. He notes that the absence of data on family support services around the country points to a lack of planning.
For further information, please contact:
Emma McKinley, Communications & Development Manager
01 662 9400 / 087 655 9067
Note for Editors
- The Tenth Report of the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection is here
- Prof. Geoffrey Shannon is the Founding Patron of the Children’s Rights Alliance