This was originally posted to my old blog on 18 April 2014.
Ireland’s sorry history of child abuse is no secret. Much has been done since to change things, to make life better for Ireland’s children. However, a fundamental problem in this country’s view on children has remained unchanged. It is, I believe, the foundation of two major violations.
The first I became aware of in the course of researching for a possible story (I sporadically consider returning to writing fiction. The affliction passes quickly, don’t worry). It turns out that in Ireland, if a person under the age of eighteen wants to go for counselling, they have to have the consent of a parent or guardian. If they seek the help of a school counsellor, the parent will be notified. It doesn’t take very long to figure out how that is just plain stupid. All people in Ireland have a constitutional right to privacy, except one group. If that group were black, or women, or Protestants, there would be an enormous outcry. But because that group are people below a certain age, their right to privacy is violated without anyone batting an eye.
What’s even more tragic is that when someone is suicidal or self-harms, some of the biggest problems among teens in Ireland at the moment for which they are likely to seek help, the feelings are often strongly related to a sense of not having any control. In what universe does it make sense to deprive people who already are on the brink of even this, control over who knows they asked for help?
The other area in which society misses the pot by a mile, is when it comes to religion. Again, we all have a right enshrined in the constitution to religious liberty. The farce this is when it comes to education has recently been under the spotlight, but there’s one issue which I haven’t seen highlighted. I’ve read the argument that parents who wish for their children to be given a religious education should be free to do so, ie provided with a school run by the church of their choice. I’ve read that non-religious parents should have access to secular schools. I can’t recall ever having heard anyone outline how children’s right to religious freedom is infringed even if they attend a school run by their parents’ favourite church/mosque/temple/whatever. What if they disagree with their parents’ religion? Why should a certain group of people have the right to subject another group of people to religious indoctrination? If you’re a boss in a standard workplace, you can’t force staff to pray, to attend religious services, to have every task infused with religious bias. We are even debating whether those who work for a religious organisation can be forced by their boss to practice the religion in question. It never crosses our minds that a certain group of people have their personal religious convictions flatly ignored, that they can be forced by another person to go to a place where they are subjected to and forced to participate in religious practices every day. Again, simply because that group of people is not black, women, of a certain sexual persuasion, it’s okay to deprive them of a fundamental right.
Until Ireland stops looking on children as parents’ possession, there will be a gigantic problem. We cannot treat people as lesser human beings with no voice and fewer rights than others for the first eighteen years of their lives, and expect them to emerge from that magically unscathed. Yes, I am all for discipline: when a child is young, there are some rights they cannot yet exercise without harming themselves. I’ve said it before, it is crucial for a child to feel their parent is in control, but that parent must always view control of their child’s life as a temporary necessity, handled with respect for their humanity and stepped back from as soon as possible.
Irish society violates children, rapes their sense of control of their lives especially when they are in crisis. What just puts the cherry on the cake is that they then wring their hands in despair: why oh why is there an epidemic of depression among Irish teens? Depression is strongly linked to a sense of helplessness, of not being in control of your own life. You regulate someone’s life and deprive them of rights the first two decades they’re alive, they’re going to develop problems.
For a country that is so child-safety obsessed, it continually amazes me how little Ireland thinks of children. They truly are moving from “children are ultimately the possessions of the church” to “children are ultimately the possessions of their parents”. Let’s hope some day society will cop on and discover
children humans should all be the possessions of nobody but themselves.