On behalf of the African Women's Network, I would like to thank the joint committee for the invitation to make a submission on the carriers' liability and implications of the Supreme Court judgment on the rights of non-national parents of Irish born children.
I am speaking here today on behalf of African women living in Ireland. I am also concerned about women from many other countries. For the benefit of those of you who are unaware of the existence of the African Womens Network, I should say that we were formed in August 2001 with initial support from the Catherine McAuley Centre. We are a national network of, and representative body for, African women living in Ireland, irrespective of their ethnic or national backgrounds, religious traditions and socio-economic, legal or residency status.
Our position is guided by the following: the well-being of African women and the well-being of women from other continents that we do not represent; the well-being of children whose principal carers are their mothers. While we have been asked to comment on the implications of the Supreme Court judgment on non-national parents of Irish-born children, we contend that the judgment also has serious implications for the Irish-born children. We are also guided by the well-being of the larger family units of the mothers and children within which both mother and child have a bond and feel most secure despite all their vulnerabilities.
Our interest today is primarily concerned with the implications of the Supreme Court judgment. On the matter of carrier liability legislation, the vulnerabilities and level of danger that those entering Ireland and other European countries in search of safety encounter is evident from the large amounts of money often paid for passage. Many people have sold the little properties and belongings that they had in their home countries and took donations from friends and extended family in the hope of having a better life and providing for those left behind and for those seeking refuge in neighbouring African countries. In this regard, the legislation should clearly target the carrier who is profiting, as opposed to the vulnerable people being carried. We hold strongly the view that in the allocation of resources to enforce the legislation, priority has to be given to breaking carrier rings involved in the transportation of women for the European prostitution markets.
Regarding our submission on the implications of the Supreme Court judgment, we wish to highlight the need for an immediate and fair system of hearing cases and, where necessary, reopening cases of non-national parents of Irish-born children. AkiDwA feels that a general amnesty granting leave to stay to non-national parents of Irish-born children before the Supreme Court judgment would be the fairest way of dealing with all the complexities of each individual case. The reasons for this position will become more apparent, especially when we look at the implications for the Irish-born children. We feel that humanitarian consideration should be given in the cases of all children born after the judgment. We also feel that women who dropped their claims for asylum after giving birth did so on the basis of bad advice and need to be afforded the opportunity of having their claims reactivated
In light of our submission on the implications of the Supreme Court judgment, emphasis should be placed on the requirement that adjudications be made giving due regard to the application of social justice and humanitarian considerations rather than on the basis of negative racist stereotypes. On this point, AkiDwA contends that negative racist and sexist stereotypes of Africans, including African women, have developed around the issue of childbirth. There is a perception that the primary concern of African women when giving birth was to obtain leave to stay and to live off the welfare system. Nothing could be further from the truth. African women have no desire to be dependent on a welfare system. They do, however, want to be granted the opportunity to make a positive contribution to society, to earn a living, support themselves and their families in Ireland and their extended families - some in their home countries and others in safer locations. The women who gave birth when in Ireland were obviously of a child-bearing and sexually active age. Unlike Europe, where the average family comprises approximately two to three children, the standard African family has five to six.
AkiDwA is working to address the fact that not all African women entering Ireland knew how and where to access family planning while others found discussing such issues with strangers culturally inappropriate. The underlying issue that we wish to highlight is the need to ensure that those hearing the cases do not do so with negative baggage.
We wish to highlight the need for the rights of the child to be protected. Although AkiDwA represents the position of African women it believes that the group that will be most affected by the recent Supreme Court ruling comprises Irish-born children. In the current climate in which deportation orders are being issued against the parents of these children, we envisage three possible scenarios that could emerge. In each case it is likely that there will be a negative outcome for the child, unless he or she has good luck.
In the first scenario, the parents of the child are deported and take their child with them. The child, an Irish citizen, will not, in most instances, be able to receive dual citizenship. The right of the child to an identity in a new land would be denied. Likewise, the capacity of the State to afford the child protection to an acceptable degree will be limited. The parents of the child would have entered Ireland in a vulnerable position and would be returned home more vulnerable and to greater poverty and insecurity than that which they experienced when they arrived. The child will have to contend with a culture into which he or she has not been socialised and will have reduced life options. In the event of parental separation or divorce, a question arises over jurisdiction in deciding on the fate and well-being of the child - in most African traditions, priority is given to men to take their children if they so choose, implying that the mother will lose out again.
In the second and third scenarios, the parents are deported and choose to leave the child behind. While this may seem like neglect it will actually be quite a logical decision and will only be taken after the parents have painstakingly weighed up the options and considered what might be best for the security, protection and long-term future of the child. In the second scenario, the child will become a ward of State and will most likely be assigned to residential care, foster care or put up for adoption. Each option will have a developmental and psychological impact on the child and possibly his or her guardians.
In the third scenario, it is quite possible that parents facing deportation will use a variation of the extended African family and use an existing network of parents with leave to stay to care for the Irish-born children. In this scenario, which I believe is quite possible, there would be a disproportionate number of children to guardians. The decision to entrust a child to parents with leave to stay will most likely be made by and between men but will impact on women as primary carers. Given the disproportionate number of children to parents, the degree of care and attention needed by the children will be reduced.
In respect of the requirement that the fears, concerns and needs of women be catered for, AkiDwA believes that the needs of a child are best served with its mother in a safe and secure environment. AkiDwA has recently encountered women suffering from psychological trauma as they envisage the prospect of deportation and the dangerous and difficult circumstances to which they will return. There are specific forms of violence against which women are not protected in many African societies - for example, female genital mutilation and death sentences for alleged adultery. Moreover, domestic violence is also accepted as the norm in many African societies. These, however, are not covered by the terms of the Geneva Convention as interpreted when asylum cases are heard. Nonetheless, they do warrant consideration on humanitarian grounds. As I stated, most African societies do not give priority to the mother in the case of a dispute on child custody. We believe this is wrong and represents a further reason why the Irish State needs to protect both Irish-born children and their mothers by granting leave to stay. Overall, we feel that everyone's best interests would be served by creating an enabling environment for African women and that investment in such a society would result in positive returns for all.
AkiDwA believes that a general amnesty should be given to all parents of Irish-born children before the Supreme Court ruling. Failing this, these and all individual cases after the ruling should be examined immediately on the basis of the legal entitlements of Irish citizens, including Irish-born children, social justice and humanitarian considerations, protection of the rights of the child and with due consideration for the concerns of women. AkiDwA believes that an enabling society should be established whereby Africans and their Irish-born children can make a positive contribution to society rather than be left in a state of dependence.