The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] ruled [judgment] 11-6 on Tuesday that the state of Ireland is liable for the sexual abuse of a schoolgirl, aged nine, by a lay teacher in an Irish National School in 1973. Louise O'Keeffe brought the case to the European rights court after the Ireland high court ruled the government was not legally liable for her abuse. The ECHR found the state of Ireland violated two articles of the European Convention on Human Rights [text, PDF], Article 3 and Article 13. The Article 3 violation concerns the state's failure to protect O'Keeffe from sexual abuse and the Article 13 violation concerns her inability to obtain an effective remedy on the national level for that failure. The ECHR found that "it was an inherent obligation of a Government to protect children from ill-treatment, especially in a primary education context." The court acknowledged a failure by the state based on the fact that over 400 incidents of abuse have been reported in O'Keeffe's primary school in County Cork since the 1960s. The former principal responsible for the abuse was ordered to pay damages to his victims and sentenced to a three year jail term in 1998. The ECHR judgment is expected to raise [Irish Independent report] the number of claims brought by victims of abuse against state employees in Ireland.
The right of children to be protected from abuse is a significant issue in Ireland and around the world. Earlier in January the UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child criticized [JURIST report] the Vatican for its handling of child sex abuse. In December a US judge in the highest court of Pennsylvania reversed [JURIST report] the conviction of a priest, who was charged with endangering the welfare of children because he failed to protect children from a sexual predator. In November a UN independent rights expert called [JURIST report] on the Benin government to better protect the rights of children after a visit to the country reportedly revealed widespread abuse and exploitation.