What's wrong with this picture?

From today's Times:

A 17-YEAR-old girl, whom gardaí believe was trafficked into Ireland to work in the sex industry, has been remanded on continuing bail.
The girl, who is from Nigeria and cannot be named for legal reasons, is charged with failing to produce a passport or another form of identification.

Now maybe this is a product of my wild imagination, but I can think of a pretty good reason why a person who had been trafficked into the country might not have a passport or another form of identification. A few pretty good reasons, in fact.

The Government has repeatedly justified its refusal to legislate for the rights of trafficking victims on the basis that the Garda Síochána treat all such persons "sympathetically", "with respect and dignity" and so on. Yes, that's exactly how I would describe bringing criminal charges against someone for not making sure they had their identity papers with them when they were trafficked.

The threat of prosecution, deportation and other such punitive measures is a very effective way to discourage trafficking victims coming forward. This is a no-brainer. It's so obvious that even Michael McDowell as Minister always insisted (not in so many words, admittedly) that it didn't happen. And yet that's precisely what's happening right now in Carlow-Kilkenny.

It's a disgrace and a scandal and I cannot understand why the migrant and women's rights sectors are not all over it.
As the dwindling numbers of people who read this blog will know, I haven't been excited by much Irish news lately. But this article, pressing as it does a number of my buttons, made me sit up and take notice:

TEACHERS last night gave a guarded backing to calls for immigrant children who cannot speak English properly to be "segregated" in our classrooms.

This followed a Fine Gael
call yesterday for the Government to separate immigrant children with poor language skills from the rest of their classmates.


His comments attracted qualified support from the ASTI [secondary teachers' union] last night. However, they preferred to describe the teaching of immigrant children apart as putting them in “immersion classes” rather than “segregation”.

The ASTI spokeswoman said an understanding of English was the key to the integration of immigrant children in schools.

Doubtless there will be knee-jerk responses to this from both sides. Not that anybody listens to me, but I would plead for a few points to be kept in mind. The first being that there are several different considerations involved here, such as:
  • How non-English speaking children can learn the language as quickly as possible
  • How to prevent them falling behind in their other subjects
  • How to ensure English-speaking children aren't brought down as a result of all this

The biggest problem, it seems to me, is that there isn't necessarily one solution that effectively addresses all three of these issues (and that's before we even get into the subject of the social and psychological effects of separating students). I remember the bilingual education debate that was raging in California when I lived there in the 1990s - for all I know, it still is. One side presented studies showing that totally immersing the kids in English was the quickest way to teach them the language. The other side presented studies showing that own-language education in addition to intensive English was the most effective way to promote their all-around academic achievement. Sometimes, these were the same studies. Even proponents of one particular viewpoint were at times forced to admit that it wasn't necessarily a question of finding the "right" solution, but of deciding which aim to prioritise.

Language is a funny beast. It arouses almost inexplicable passions in people, often in inverse proportion to the amount they actually know about it. As was once pointed out to me by a friend of mine with an advanced degree in the subject, so much about language is counter-intuitive - and yet there seems to be hardly anyone out there without a very firm, almost visceral, opinion on the right way to deal with the vexing linguistic issues that arise. It's true for a lot of subjects, of course, that people form views from which they can't be swayed no matter how much contrary evidence is put in front of them. But language seems to me to be exceptional in the extent to which people care so much on the basis of so little understanding of how it actually works.

And it hardly needs to be added that people's views on the subject are often influenced to a great degree by their views on immigration and multiculturalism in general. This makes it difficult, at times, to sort out legitimate concerns about educational standards from lumpen xenophobia just looking for a respectable excuse to latch onto. Of course this works in reverse too: those of us who think of diversity as a positive end in itself are sometimes guilty of not thinking through the practical consequences of policies designed to promote it.

The education of children is an area where society simply cannot afford the hazards of such knee-jerk reactions from either side. It's too important to be decided on the basis of who's shouting the loudest, or which policy fits most neatly within a particular overall ideological framework. The government needs to look very closely at the available evidence - of which there is plenty, just ask the Californians - and make the decision that is demonstrated to be genuinely best for the children, regardless of how (un)popular it is. I know what I hope that decision turns out to be, but it's not for me to advocate. I don't really understand how it works either.

  Subscribe with Bloglines