United Nations Report: Institutionalization of Children, Magdalene Laundries

It took some doing to find a copy of the report by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child that the media has been reporting on over the last several hours. I have obtained the advance unedited version of Concluding observations on the second periodic report of the Holy See, and it does make for an interesting read.

Regarding the Magdalene Laundries in Ireland, drawn directly from the report:

Torture and other cruel or degrading treatment or punishment

37. The Committee is concerned that the Holy See has not taken the necessary measures to protect and ensure justice for girls arbitrarily placed by their families, State institutions and churches in the Magdalene laundries of Ireland run by four congregations of Catholic Sisters until 1996. The Committee is particularly concerned that:

(a) Girls placed in these institutions were forced to work in slavery like conditions and were often subject to inhuman, cruel and degrading treatment as well as to physical and sexual abuse;

(b) Girls were deprived of their identity, of education and often of food and essential medicines and were imposed with an obligation of silence and prohibited from having any contact with the outside world;

(c) Unmarried girls who gave birth before entering or while incarcerated in the laundries had their babies forcibly removed from them; and

(d) Although the four Catholic congregations concerned function under the authority of the Holy See, no action has been taken to investigate the conduct of the sisters who ran the laundries and to cooperate with law enforcement authorities in holding accountable those who were responsible for the abuse as well as all those who organised and knowingly profited from the girls’ unpaid work.

The report encourages the Holy See to: “Conduct an internal investigation into the conduct of religious personnel working in the Magdalene laundries in Ireland as well as in all countries where this system was in place, and ensure that all those responsible for the offences be sanctioned and reported to national judicial authorities for prosecution purposes.”

Regarding the sexual abuse of children, the report notes: “Well-known child sexual abusers have been transferred from parish to parish or to other countries in an attempt to cover-up such crimes, a practice documented by numerous national commissions of inquiry. The practice of offenders’ mobility, which has allowed many priests to remain in contact with children and to continue to abuse them, still places children in many countries at high risk of sexual abuse, as dozens of child sexual offenders are reported to be still in contact with children.”

Regarding children deprived of a family environment:

The Committee urges the Holy See to properly investigate all allegations of children and adolescents being separated from their families by means of psychological manipulation and ensure that those responsible for manipulating adolescents be held accountable and cease their activities.

Regarding the institutionalisation of children: “The Committee is concerned that institutionalisation of children is still widespread in Catholic church run organisations and that family type alternatives are still not given priority as shown by the opening of new institutions in many countries. The Committee is also concerned that the Holy See has not adopted guidelines on the placement of children in Catholic alternative care institutions and for monitoring their situation and still has no policy for the de-institutionalisation of children placed in Catholic Church run organisations.”

With multiple Inquiries running, including the Special Commission of Inquiry: Child abuse allegations in Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle, the Inquiry into the Handling of Child Abuse by Religious and Other Organisations, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, and The Historical Institutional Abuse Inquiry, it is sure to be an interesting year.

At the risk of being charged with Catholic-bashing, I hasten to add that while it may appear that Catholic-run facilities are more prone to the sexual abuse of children, this is not necessarily true. It is that there are so very many such facilities operated by the Catholic church that makes it seems so. (For example, for many years, the Catholic church had a near-complete monopoly on foster care services in New York City.) Who would know? Insurance companies that insure churches do not charge Catholic churches more for liability insurance than they do any other denominations.

The Salvation Army has been taking a fair beating in one of these inquiries. They actually issued yet another apology for abusing children in care. To be sure, there are many secular agencies that have poor track records when it comes to the caretaking of foster children out there as well.

3 responses

  1. I think the institutional abuse of children happens *because it’s an institution* and none of the adults running it have any biological relationship to the child, plus they’re overwhelmed by the tremendous child-adult ratio and, before a couple decades ago, no one was screening institutional workers to see if they had a past record of child abuse or molestation.

    I mention the lack of biological relationship not to claim that biological relationships never involve abuse, but because the bio relationship seems to make abuse *less likely*. Something about the child being your own child (or niece, or nephew, or cousin) seems to restrain a lot of people from being cruel to that child, which is why my social-worker best friend informed me you see far more stepparents and other biological strangers hurting kids than their own families doing it.

  2. Note also that I said *biological* stranger. A well-known babysitter or a school teacher or a little-league baseball coach may be known to the child but would still be a biological stranger.

  3. I agree entirely. There is nothing counterintuitive about the idea that biologically related caretakers would, on the whole, provide a safer environment for children than would non-biologically-related, state-paid caretakers. Unfortunately, this is not always given the consideration that it merits.

    As of 2014: “Current best evidence suggests that children in kinship foster care may do better than children in traditional foster care in terms of their behavioural development, mental health functioning, and placement stability. Children in traditional foster care placements may do better with regard to achieving adoption and accessing services they may need. There were no negative effects experienced by children who were placed in kinship care. The major limitation of this systematic review is that the quality of research on kinship care is weakened by the poor methods of the included studies.”

    Winokur M, Holtan A, Batchelder K E. Kinship Care for the Safety, Permanency, and Well-being of Children Removed from the Home for Maltreatment: A Systematic Review
    Campbell Systematic Reviews 2014:2. DOI: 10.4073/csr.2014.2.

    http://www.campbellcollaboration.org/lib/project/51/

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