Father faces jail if he does not walk his child to school

'IT IS AN ABUSE OF CHILDREN NOT TO GIVE THEM EDUCATION'

THE FATHER of a teenager was once again threatened with jail if his daughter did not attend school.

The parents the girl, who is a student in a New Ross Secondary School, were before last Tuesday's sitting of Wexford District Court charged in relation to their daughter's poor attendance at school.

Since late December last year the matter has been before the court 'on and off ', however at last Tuesday's sitting Educational Welfare Officer, Sheila Clarke explained that despite an Attendance Notice being served on the girl's parents there is still an ongoing problem with the teenager's attendance at school.

Of the 75 schooldays from August 31, 2011 to January 9, 2012, the girl, who is a member of the Travelling community, was absent for 64 of them. From this September up to October 5, she was absent 22 out of the 27 schooldays.

Ms. Clarke explained that the girl has been facilitated in school to arrive late and leave earlier, which works in conjunction with her younger sister's primary school hours and a school teacher has also offered to provide her with a lift to school, she explained.

The mother's solicitor Siobhan Dunne explained that her client is 'not a well woman'. 'She is living under the thumb of her husband and four children,' she said, before explaining that her client is in a violent marriage and suffers with depression.

'I am concerned that she does not fully comprehend the nature of the case or the sanctions... She has told me today that she has stopped eating, because of the stress in her life she cannot eat,' she added. Ms. Dunne appealed to Judge Gerard Haughton not to punish her client as her influence in the family is very limited. 'It is wrong to punish her for having no influence in the circumstances of her life,' added Ms. Dunne.

Solicitor Gerry Flynn, acting for the girl's father, explained that the family previously lived in local authority accommodation but due to their unacceptable 'way of living' they were evicted. They are dependent on emergency social welfare obtained on a week to week basis. ' The girl never settled in secondary school. Her family are generally not academically orientated. Her father says that traditionally young girls from a Travelling background tend to cease any form of schooling after primary school. He said he finds it hard to motivate her to get up and out to go to school in the mornings and the girl is resistant to going to school. This is a case where the parents are not able to pull together to promote their daughter going to school,' outlined Mr. Flynn.

He further outlined to the court that it has been suggested that the husband is the dominant influence, however he couldn't say whether or not that was the case. 'It is too easy to demonise my client,' he added.

' They are together as a family for whatever reason,' said Mr. Flynn, adding that there is dysfunctional background attached to the family.

Judge Gerard Haughton said one difficulty he had with the case was that neither parent chose to give evidence and therefore claims made cannot be tested.

'Every culture has good and bad aspects to it. The culture many years ago was to involve people in forced labour, slavery. It doesn't make it right,' he pointed out. 'It is an abuse of children not to give them the benefit of education,' he said, adding that a lack of education 'destroys' a child's chance of a future.

'Many, many Travellers are attending school and doing very, very well,' he said.

' This has to stop and the message has to go out that it will not be tolerated. All we do by not educating our youth is condemning them to a difficult life with little employment prospects,' he added.

He pointed out that 'every possible assistance' has been given to the defendants to ensure their daughter attends school on a daily basis and said it wouldn't do her father 'any harm' to get his daughter up and walk her to school every day.

'I have to deal with the matter with what is in the best interest for the child and if there is a culture I have to put down a marker that it is not acceptable,' he said.

The Judge applied the Probation Act to the girl's mother, saying he accepts she has little or no control and is not in a position to act.

In relation to the father, he have him two choices - walk his daughter to school or face one month in prison.

The case was adjourned until today (Tuesday).

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