Children go without medicine because of Government “Child Benefit” residency clause

20 November 2007

Some 3,000 children in Ireland are being deprived of basic necessities such as over the counter medicines because their parents cannot afford them as they do not qualify for Child Benefit under the Habitual Residency Condition, a group of organisations working for children’s rights in Ireland said today.

FLAC (Free Legal Advice Centres), the Children’s Rights Alliance, the Vincentian Refugee Centre, Barnardos, the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland (MRCI), OPEN, the Immigrant Council of Ireland (ICI) and the Irish Refugee Council (IRC) on the occasion of Universal Children’s Day, are highlighting the fact that children are going without basic necessities like medicine, food and adequate clothing as a result of the imposition of the Habitual Residence Condition by the Department of Family and Social Affairs

“The majority are the children of asylum seekers or others seeking protection or humanitarian leave to remain in Ireland, many of whom have to wait years for a decision. Child Benefit has been always seen by the State as a plank to remove children from poverty” according to Noeline Blackwell, Director General of FLAC. “The refusal of Child Benefit means that the State is turning its back on its own policies and commitments, including its commitments under Social Partnership and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.” According to the group of organisations, the number of children affected is relatively small and is estimated by FLAC through its research at less than 3,000 children. According to Sr. Breege Keenan of the Vincentian Refugee Centre, the effects of denying Child Benefit to these children are very visible and immediate. “We see children all the time whose parents cannot give them the most basic requirements.

These include suitable food and dietary supplements. Over the counter medicines like Calpol and even simple playthings are often way beyond the means of these parents” Jillian van Turnhout, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, pointed out that children’s schooling was also being affected: “Many of the parents simply cannot find the voluntary contributions so regularly requested by schools, and cannot even afford the books or extra curricular activities that are so essential for the integration and development of their children”.

“The difficulty is that migration policy overrides everything else, including children’s rights and poverty reduction and in effect, children have little or no influence at the Cabinet table or in the wider political system” according to Ms. Blackwell. According to the group the cost of paying child benefit to all the children affected would be less than €6 million per annum. The group statement concluded that “In today’s Ireland it is shameful that children are being driven into such poverty by a migration led policy which takes no account of the rights and needs of children.”

Contact person: Noeline Blackwell, Director General of FLAC Tel. 01 874 5690

You can view the full joint statement here.