FAMILY MEMBERS could face prosecution if they fail to report evidence of sexual abuse or other serious offences against children to the Garda under proposed new laws.
In addition, any sports club, faith-based organisation or voluntary group with access to children could be shut down if they fail to implement guidelines for the reporting of suspected child abuse or neglect.
The measures are contained in two pieces of proposed legislation published by the Government aimed at significantly strengthening our child protection laws.
They were widely welcomed by children’s groups last night who described them as a turning point in the history of child protection and ushering in a new era of responsibility for protecting young people at risk of harm.
Under a Bill published by Minister for Justice Alan Shatter, any person found guilty of withholding information relating to sexual or serious offences against children could face a minimum jail term of five years.
The draft legislation includes a defence for those who fail to disclose information at the express request of the victim.
In addition, parents or health professionals will be able to use a defence of not reporting information on the basis that it would harm the wellbeing of the child.
In a separate Bill published by Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald, guidelines for handling suspected abuse or neglect concerns are to be placed on a legal footing.
Failure to adhere to the guidelines could result in teachers, doctors or social workers being fined or jailed.
Similar penalties apply to “designated officers” attached to organisations with access to children.