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1 March 2001 Edition

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Cherish the children

``I would like to be given a chance to prove myself. I am asking you as a human being to please consider my request to go back to John of God's or somewhere less secure soon. My life is being destroyed at the moment. The other night I tried to choke myself, I felt at my lowest and really wanted to die.''

These are the tragic words of troubled teenager Kim O'Donovan, who shouldn't have died. She had written this plea in a letter to Judge Peter Kelly, four months before she died in a squalid city-centre B&B of a drugs overdose. But the letter would never reach Kelly, renowned for championing the cause of children in residential care. The authorities at Newtown House, where she was staying, failed to pass it on, on the grounds that Kelly's name was not on Kim's contact list.

The High Court will decide where blame lies for Kim's death, and the management of Newtown House, the health board, the government and the GardaĆ­ are all likely to be found lacking.

Just a few months ago, Kelly threatened to hold three 26-County government ministers in contempt for their failure to provide appropriate facilities for disturbed children. In doing this he acknowledged that responsibility for the welfare of these children cannot be lumped on individual workers but extends to the highest levels of the establishment.

This week, a senior legal figure called on the 26-County government to go one step further. UCC law lecturer Frank Martin has proposed that on polling day for the Treaty of Nice referendum, amendments to the 26-County Constitution guaranteeing specific children's rights should also be put before the people. He has also called for a Children's Rights Act to be included in legislation imposing a legal obligation on the state for its treatment of children.

The state failed to protect Kim O'Donovan. Urgent action is now needed to protect all the other Kims out there.


An Phoblacht
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