Charity slams 'rape clause' contained in child tax credit form
A benefit change that requires mothers to prove children were conceived through rape has been denounced as "profoundly cruel" by a Northern Ireland charity.
Women's Aid Federation NI spoke out against the two-child tax credit limit, which comes into effect across the UK this week.
It will limit child tax credits for new claimants to two children per family unless certain conditions are met - including the mother proving she conceived a third child through rape.
Speaking about this "rape clause", the head of Women's Aid Federation NI, Jan Melia, said: "This policy is tone deaf to the reality of sexual violence.
"Many victims take years before they are ready to open up and talk about sexual violence that they've suffered.
"Forcing them to do so before they're ready, in order to access welfare, is profoundly cruel. Forced disclosure can exacerbate post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health issues, and will heighten the sense of shame and isolation felt by victims.
"We already live in a culture where women are not believed when they report sexual assault.
"This policy will only magnify the worry that rape victims have about being told that they are lying about what's happened to them."
The controversial measure is part of a wider benefit shake-up which is expected to impact on thousands of households across Northern Ireland.
Kevin Higgins of Advice NI said parents needed to be aware of these changes, adding: "Government's two-child policy will mean no additional financial support within child tax credit, amounting to over £50 per week, for many babies born on or after April 6. In Northern Ireland by 2020 it is envisaged that this cut in support will amount to £33m.
"Regarding the changes affecting lone parents with a youngest child aged five or over, our figures show that this change will affect around 2,000 lone parents here.
"This means that lone parents claiming Jobseekers Allowance will be subject to the rules that apply to jobseekers and must show that they are actively seeking and available for work. If you think you will be affected by these or any other welfare changes, then we can provide information, advice and support via the independent welfare changes helpline on 0808 802 0020."