I move amendment No. 2:
In page 5, between lines 21 and 22, to insert the following:
“ “child” means a person under the age of 18 years in respect of whom a gender recognition certificate has not been issued;”.
On 17 February, on Committee Stage, I elaborated on why I felt so passionately about this issue. It is very troubling for me that the Bill does not provide a mechanism, even a temporary mechanism, for children under the age of 16 years. I would say "under the age of 18", because if we look at the process for 16 to 18 year olds, in effect I am talking about under 18s. I gave the example on Committee Stage of the six year old child who has clearly articulated his preferred gender and which has been fully embraced by his parents, friends, extended family and community. Is this young child, a boy, going to be forced to go through a girls' school wearing a girl's uniform and listening to others use the wrong name and pronouns in order to gain access to the education available in his locality? I believe that is what we are doing to children in these circumstances, and I find it difficult to stand over legislation that is not just silent but is ignoring children. I believe we are going back to the practice in the past of telling children to sit in the corner and wait because we adults will sort all of this out. We will not give them a voice.
I had a choice. I could have resubmitted the amendments I put forward on Committee Stage, which I was tempted to do because I still strongly believe in the amendments I put forward, but I decided, under the principle of trying to move on, to put forward a set of compromise amendments on an interim gender recognition certificate because I believe that might be a way, in the interim and before the review in two years' time, to allow people understand what we are talking about here and to appreciate what we are trying to do.
On 17 February I talked positively about why I thought that, but today I want to deal with some negative issues that have been raised with me since Committee Stage.
I am not talking about surgery or any surgical intervention on a child. It has been said that is to what I have referred. I am talking about allowing a child to identify as and live his or her life as the gender he or she wishes to identify as. I am not referring to Munchausen syndrome. It is a very serious child protection issue, but it is very limited. In my voluntary life I am a trainer in child protection for the Irish Girl Guides and we used to include Munchausen syndrome as part of the training. It is such a specialised and remote field of study that we do not include it in the training because our leaders would not identify it. If there is a case of Munchausen syndrome, it should be dealt with as a child protection issue and we should not shy away from doing something in this Bill on this occasion. It is an issue and we should deal with it.
This has made me think of my childhood because the road on which I grew up had many children, but because of my age cohort many of my peers were male. Many people called me a tomboy; I climbed trees and got involved in little fights. That did not make me feel in any way a boy. I never felt I wanted to go to my brothers' school or identified as a boy, even though people called me a tomboy. I am not talking about a child in that way. Rather, I refer to children who clearly align their gender. I always felt I was a girl and I would have hated to have been in the reverse situation. That is what I am trying to address, namely, being forced to live a life which is not how one feels.
I tried to think about what I would have done if I had wanted to live my life, go to my brothers' school and be part of that. It would not have been me and it would have had an effect on me. I would have become introverted or extroverted, but the effect on me would have been significant and immense. The reality is that is what we are doing to children who clearly align their gender. As a society we cannot quite catch up with that yet for some reason.
On Committee Stage, the Minister of State referenced a figure of 20% which was given out during the hearings of the Oireachtas committee by Dr. O'Shea. With the greatest respect, the Minister of State was being a little selective. I went over the transcripts of 23 October 2013. Dr. O'Shea did use the figure of 20% and said:
Before puberty there is a reported 20% desist rate, which is change of mind after the process moves forward. Following puberty, this rate falls to less than 5%.
The figure of 5% is much more in line with every modern study we have which has the figure at below 4%. I do not think throwing out the figure of 20% is an accurate way of examining the issue. The figure is much lower and that would happen no matter what legislation we had in place.
This issue is very clear. Dr. O'Shea, as an endocrinologist, went to say:
This would protect a minority of patients within the overall group who think they have the condition but who do not. Self-declaration alone would support this minority in what is a personality disorder and potentially worsen their outcome. Legislating for any minority is difficult.
He was not telling us not to legislate. In fact, in terms of what is happening in respect of puberty and blocking and hormone therapy, the only two endocrinologists in Ireland operate in Loughlinstown and Crumlin hospitals. They are already, as practitioners, capable of sanctioning such medical treatment for children with parental consent.
The State allows, with parental consent, for medical hormone therapy and blocking. None of that comes within the scope of what I am asking for. I am asking for a certificate, because we know the school system is driven by what is on a birth certificate which cannot be changed. I am arguing for what I hope is common sense to prevail, but the reality is that does not always happen. We have spent quite a bit of time in this House trying to legislate for common sense and to allow it to prevail.
I am arguing for an interim gender recognition certificate for children under 18 years of age. It would have no impact on the current practices or what medical practitioners are doing. It would ensure that we are abiding by the Constitution and international human rights in respect of allowing children to live and be reared in their preferred gender. In the event that any uncertainty remains, let me again stress that there is nothing in the new amendment I have tabled or the original suite of amendments I tabled that will see children under the age of 16 years having automatic rights or rights independent of their parents or guardians' consent to undergo medical transition processes or surgery.
Everything I have said involves the parents and child being in agreement, yet we cannot catch up with that agreement. I am asking why we cannot accept it. We should ensure we have a way of dealing with children on a case-by-case basis. On Committee Stage we raised the issue of the Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997, which allows 16 and 17 year olds to choose, if they wished, to seek medical services, yet it seems we are not able to introduce a certificate. A certificate would allow people to calmly live out their lives, as they wish, as a child. There would be nothing irreversible at stake. It could all be reversed as needed, but I do not see that happening. We have to move on.
I have read many different reports and articles. On 10 February there was an article in The Guardian written by a mother who did not give her name. She is very involved in a group which has a wonderful name, Mermaids, in the United Kingdom. It is a support group for gender variant children and teenagers and their families. She wrote about her child's experience. She said:
My seven-year-old child, although born male-bodied, has expressed herself as a girl since she could walk and talk. That expression translated into an articulation at age four that she was a girl "stuck inside the wrong body". Reinforcing boyhood for our child began to lead to distress, upset and anxiety. What did we do? We kept reinforcing boyhood. What happened then? We found ourselves with a five-year-old who talked about wanting to die rather than be a boy. A five-year-old with a fascination for butterflies and caterpillars and mermaids who began talking about suicide ... Our child lives as a girl now and her school describes her as "calm, mature, bright-eyed and intelligent". How did we get to that point? We listened to the child. We educated ourselves on the facts at hand and we facilitated the child's outward expression of her own assertion about her identity. This has led to a happy child, well adjusted and thriving, engaged with an education and well liked by peers.
That is what I am trying to argue for. I am trying to argue for that seven year old girl being able to live her life as she wishes. Her parents saw her distress in the short period from age four to seven years and what they were doing to their child.
In Ireland we have a system of single sex education. We can all agree that a child should be allowed to attend a girls' school. We know that when an application is made, schools ask for birth certificates and the seven year old child to whom I referred would have a birth certificate stating she is male. She would be told she needs to act like a boy and that would reinforce that. It is unacceptable that we are doing this.
The legislation being discussed in Malta is very progressive. It will not note gender until a child is 14 years of age. It is an interesting approach. We are not yet at that stage. We do not have the mechanisms in place to minimise the challenges currently faced by transgender children in Ireland because of our segregated school system in the main and the requirement that parents must submit birth certificates for registration. I am trying to argue that where a child has clearly articulated views regarding his or her preferred gender that he or she should be facilitated in achieving this end, especially where all parties agree. I have included protections in the amendments I have tabled. If any other facts come to the attention of a Minister, he or she could revoke that certificate.
I have moved forward on the issue and I am trying to think of the children. We are probably talking about only a handful of children, but I would prefer us to allow common sense and what is in the best interests of the child to prevail. We should allow the views of children and their evolving capacity to be heard when decisions about their lives are being made.
The Minister of State mentioned the Yogyakarta Principles but, particularly in the area of children, they transpose the language of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Ireland has ratified. Ireland will be before the UN next January, and the NGOs and Ombudsman for Children will be before it in June. The convention states:
States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.
I cannot understand why children are absent from the Bill.