Recognising the rights of children everywhere

A blog article by Feargal Brougham, President of the Irish National Teachers’ Organisation.

Thirty years ago, on 20 November 1989, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was adopted by the UN General Assembly. It was a landmark achievement that recognised the importance of children in our society and set standards for their treatment and protection. To date, 196 countries have ratified the Convention, committing to protect the survival, developmental, protection and participation rights of children. While the Convention has led to significant improvements for children and young people in many countries, including Ireland, Israel has failed to live up to its commitment.

Children in Palestine continue to be subject to mass arrests and mistreatment at the hands of Israeli forces. Israel is the only country in the world to process children through military tribunals instead of civilian courts. The suffering endured by Palestinian children, including psychological trauma, seems more than a mere by-product of occupation. Rather, it appears to be a deliberate policy of the Israeli occupying forces. A UNICEF report in 2013 remarked that the “ill-treatment of Palestinian children in the Israeli military detention system appears to be widespread, systematic and institutionalised.”

For many years, the Irish trade union movement has had a strong position of solidarity for the Palestinian people but now, even states that are strong allies of Israel are known to be expressing alarm at its treatment of Palestinian children. There has been a major mobilisation in the USA, with the ‘No Way to Treat a Child’ campaign, and a Bill recently introduced by Representative Betty McCollum to the US Congress aimed to “end US support and funding for Israel’s systematic military detention, interrogation, abuse, torture and prosecution of Palestinian children” and to “protect children from abuse, violence, psychological trauma and torture…abuse that is perpetrated not only with intent, but systematically applied to intimidate, control and create fear amongst families, communities and an entire population.”

I recently visited Palestine as part of an Irish trade union delegation where I visited schools in East Jerusalem and Hebron and an after-school facility in a refugee camp in Bethlehem. Many of the children I met had to undergo frequent security searches and harassment on their way to and from school. It was clear that the teachers and professionals working with the children did their utmost to provide safe havens for their pupils, however, this is undermined by Israeli incursions into the schools. The Israeli Government and defence forces have a policy of collective punishment, so if a security incident happens, the whole population suffers. Female members of our own delegation were subject to humiliating strip searches at the airport when leaving Israel.

We heard from child psychiatrists, that the term ‘post traumatic stress disorder’ doesn’t apply to the Palestinian population as the situation is ongoing and, at present, it doesn’t appear that it will lessen.

To mark the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Trade Union Friends of Palestine, in collaboration with a wide range of trade unions affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, is hosting a major conference to address the suffering endured by Palestinian children. It is a small step to reflect the widespread concern across the Irish trade union movement for the injustices perpetrated against the Palestinian people. Some of the most outstanding Palestinian, Israeli and international advocates for the rights of Palestinian children will address the conference and I hope that this will lead to practical projects of solidarity and support that will ultimately improve the lives of Palestinian children.

A trade union-led conference on Palestinian children will be held in Dublin on Friday 22 November and Saturday 23 November. For more information visit Trade Union Friends of Palestine (click here).