Being seen and heard: involving young people in the Children’s Referendum

Vote YES for Children



In just over two weeks the people of Ireland will be tasked with voting on the Children’s Referendum, on Saturday the 10th November.

This presents a brilliant opportunity to engage young people on the values base of our constitution through human rights education. UNICEF Ireland have taken the hard work out of this for you by producing two toolkits with activities and materials for educators in primary and secondary schools (as well as youth groups) in order to facilitate discussions on children’s rights and to conduct a class poll in the lead up to the referendum – so join in!

Why a Children’s referendum now?

While our Constitution is the foundation for all the State’s laws and policies, it does not provide an express statement of rights for children. The referendum is proposing that changes be made to the Irish Constitution that reflects our changing attitudes and values in relation to children. It is an important public moment for everyone in Ireland to reflect on, young and old.

This has all been informed by the changes in non-traditional family units (single parents, unmarried opposite sex co-habiters and same sex couples) and in the wake of 17 major reports on child protection failings and systemic abuse since 1970 by the state and organisations where children spent time, such as in the care of Catholic priests and members of Roman Catholic order run schools.

The Children’s Rights Alliance, consisting of over 100 organisations, puts the Irish experience into context:

The Irish Constitution was written in 1937, at a time when children were ‘seen and not heard’ and when, for example, it was the norm for teachers to physically discipline children and for children to be seen as mere possessions of adults.

The public was rightly shocked and angered by the findings of the Ryan Report, published in May 2009, which exposed systematic abuse of children living in institutions throughout the country, that spanned half a century.  The societal attitudes that allowed this abuse to continue must be challenged and overcome.  This is our opportunity to break away from this legacy and do all we can to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child.

Today, society views children differently; we appreciate that children have rights and that they should be respected as individuals in their own right.  We now need to make children visible in our Constitution.  Strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution will help ensure that each child is protected and cherished equally, and that the courts are guided to make decisions that are in the best interests of the child and keep families together.

Strengthening children’s rights in the Constitution would do just that; it would also reinforce this new societal view of children and set down a marker for us all: that every childhood counts and we have a duty to respect and protect the rights of children. It’s important to remember that the Constitution largely reflects the time it was first written – in 1937 – when children were seen and not heard.   It is time that our Constitution reflects modern views of children and childhood.

Primary & secondary workshops and conducting class polls

UNICEF Ireland’s resources for primary, secondary and youth educators in Ireland in the lead up to the referendum have been designed for busy educators that are looking for some quick starter activities that engage with the issues for their classes.

Once the workshops have been delivered you can conduct a class poll, send the results to UNICEF which will then be collated and published in the days leading up to the public vote reflecting the voices of children across the country. Make your class heard and get polling!

Children’s Toolkit

The Children’s Toolkit aims to explore the Children’s Referendum through experiential exercises focused on their rights, responsibilities and the Constitution:

  • Workshop # 1 Our RightsIntroduce Children to the Convention on the Rights of the Child
  • Workshop # 2 Our Responsibilities Explore Children’s Rights and Responsibilities
  • Workshop # 3 Our ConstitutionExamine the key principles of the Referendum through experiential exercises

Young People’s Toolkit

The Young People’s Toolkit aims to explore the Children’s Referendum through experiential exercises exploring children’s rights in Ireland. It gives young people an opportunity to research and debate the referendum in order to formulate their own opinion. It also provides participants with creative ways to raise awareness and campaign during the Referendum debates.

Children voting on the referendum – conduct a pole!

Here is the Your Voice, Your Vote two page guide to running a Children’s Referendum in your school (or youth group).

The poll is being organised by UNICEF along with Spunout, the National Youth Council of Ireland, Youth Work Ireland, Foróige and Educate Together to get schools and youth groups all over the country so make sure the voices in your class are heard.

It’s so easy to take part – just download the following documents and choose a date to run the Poll:

Make sure to get back in touch by 4pm on Monday 5th November  to get your class’ results in and let UNICEF know how many YES & NO votes you counted – contact (01) 8783000

Extra info

The proposed New Article 42A

Here is the actual text being proposed by the referendum that Ireland will be voting on at the polls on 10th November, 2012:


1. The State recognises and affirms the natural and imprescriptible rights of all children and shall, as far as practicable, by its laws protect and vindicate those rights.

2. In exceptional cases, where the parents, regardless of their marital status, fail in their duty towards their children to such extent that the safety or welfare of any of their children is likely to be prejudicially affected, the State as guardian of the common good shall, by proportionate means as provided by law, endeavour to supply the place of the parents, but always with due regard for the natural and imprescriptible rights of the child.

2.Provision shall be made by law for the adoption of any child where the parents have failed for such a period of time as may be prescribed by law in their duty towards the child and where the best interests of the child so require.

3. Provision shall be made by law for the voluntary placement for adoption and the adoption of any child.

4. Provision shall be made by law that in the resolution of all proceedings –

i brought by the State, as guardian of the common good, for the purpose of preventing the safety and welfare of any child from being prejudicially affected, or

ii concerning the adoption, guardianship or custody of, or access to, any child, the best interests of the child shall be the paramount consideration.

4. Provision shall be made by law for securing, as far as practicable, that in all proceedings referred to in subsection 1° of this section in respect of any child who is capable of forming his or her own views, the views of the child shall be ascertained and given due weight having regard to the age and maturity of the child.