IHRC Discussion Paper Part 7 – Conventions on the Rights of the Child and Racial Discrimination

This is an extract from a discussion paper written by the Irish Human Rights Commission about religious education and human rights. Atheist Ireland is preparing a response to this discussion paper, and we welcome your feedback on it.

Convention on the Rights of the Child

40. Article 14 provides:

“1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.
3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.”

41. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has recognised that freedom of religion in the context of compulsory education can be an important issue for children. In its first General Comment on the aims of education, the Committee emphasised that “children do not lose their human rights by virtue of passing through the school gates” and highlighted the importance of schools respecting children’s participation rights.

Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination

42. In its relevant part Article 5 of CERD provides:

“In compliance with the fundamental obligations laid down in article 2 of this Convention, States Parties undertake to prohibit and to eliminate racial discrimination in all its forms and to guarantee the right of everyone, without distinction as to race, colour, or national or ethnic origin, to equality before the law, notably in the enjoyment of the
following rights:
….
(d) Other civil rights, in particular:
….
(vii) The right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion;
(e) Economic, social and cultural rights, in particular:
…..
(v) The right to education and training;”

43. In the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on Ireland issued in 2005 it was stated:

“18. The Committee, noting that almost all primary schools are run by Catholic groups and that non-denominational or multidenominational schools represent less than 1 per cent of the total number of primary education facilities, is concerned that existing laws and practice would favour Catholic pupils in the admission to Catholic schools in case of shortage of places, particularly in the light of the limited alternatives available (art. 5 (d) (vii) and 5 (e) (v)).

The Committee, recognizing the ‘intersectionality’ of racial and religious discrimination, encourages the State party to promote the establishment of non-denominational or multi-denominational schools and to amend the existing legislative framework so that no discrimination may take place as far as the admission of pupils (of all religions) to schools is concerned.”

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