Modern Australian

how our country is failing to protect its children

  • Written by Faith Gordon, Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University
how our country is failing to protect its children

Last month, Australia appeared before the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in Geneva for a five-year assessment of the government’s progress in protecting the rights of children. The hearing included submissions from the Australian government, the Australian Human Rights Commission and civil society organisations on everything from youth justice issues to children’s health and well-being.

Among those who spoke at the hearing was 12-year-old Dujuan Hoosan from Arrernte and Garrwa country in central Australia, who called on the Australian government to stop imprisoning 10-year-olds, support Aboriginal-led education programs, and respect the culture and rights of all children in Australia.

I came here to speak with you because the Australian government is not listening. Adults never listen to kids like me. But we have important things to say.

He is believed to be the youngest person ever to address the UN Human Rights Council.

On Friday, the UN committee handed down its report – and it paints a gloomy picture.

Read more: Australia must do better at protecting children's rights

The committee was extremely critical of the Australian government on a range of issues. These included the high numbers of children in care and the criminal justice system, the continued forced sterilisation of children with disabilities, the government’s treatment of refugee and asylum-seeking children, and the lack of meaningful opportunities for children to participate in decision-making on policies that affect their lives.

Many of the recommendations go to the heart of the ingrained political, cultural and legal inferiority of children in Australia.

Children and the criminal justice system

The Australian government played a major role in the drafting and passage of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child nearly 30 years ago and was among its first signatories. The convention is one of the most ratified human rights treaties in history. It plays an important role in defining and upholding the rights of children.

Despite this, Australia still does not have a national strategy to ensure the implementation of appropriate protections of children’s rights.

The youth justice system in Australia, for example, has been described for some time as being in crisis.

In 2017, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory shone a light onto some of the most serious violations in Australia’s youth justice system. It found that over the past decade, children in the NT were frequently mistreated, abused, humiliated and left alone for long periods. The local government has done little to address the issues since then.

Read more: One year on from Royal Commission findings on Northern Territory child detention: what has changed?

Queensland’s youth justice system is now under scrutiny, after media reports earlier this year found that children as young as 10 were being housed in adult watch houses.

Nationally, media reports and official statistics show the rising numbers of children being remanded in prison rather than being granted bail. This is contrary to international guidelines, which say that prison should only be used as a “last resort”.

The UN committee report made a number of major recommendations on criminal justice issues, including urging the Australian government

  • to immediately raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to an internationally acceptable age of 14

  • to immediately implement the 2018 recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission to reduce the high rates of Indigenous children who are imprisoned

  • to prohibit the use of isolation and force against children in detention, including the use of restraints, and immediately investigate all cases of abuse and mistreatment of children in detention

  • to urge the Northern Territory and Western Australia to review and repeal mandatory minimum sentences for children.

Some of these recommendations were tabled over a year ago by the royal commission, but no major steps have been taken since.

The committee also urged Australia to explicitly prohibit corporal punishment of children in all settings, including homes, schools, detention centres and alternative care. It also called for laws in states and territories that permit “reasonable chastisement” to be repealed.

These laws currently allow adults to physically discipline children as long as it is “reasonable” in the circumstances. As campaigners against the practice rightly argue, “reasonable” is a vague term and open to interpretation. The UN committee wants it banned, as has recently taken place in Scotland.

Mental health and suicide

The committee also said it was “seriously concerned” that the number of Australian children with mental health problems was on the rise. This is particularly so for children in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities or alternative care, those who are homeless, living in rural and remote areas or asylum-seekers, those from culturally diverse backgrounds and LGBTI children.

The report noted that

almost one in seven children were assessed with mental health problems, with suicide being the leading cause of death for those aged 15-24.

Read more: How we can help refugee kids to thrive in Australia

Among its recommendations to the government were

  • prioritising mental health service delivery to children in vulnerable situations, such as those groups listed above

  • strengthening measures to ensure the side effects of certain drugs for ADHD are fully communicated to parents/guardians and children and that they are prescribed “as a measure of last resort”

  • continuing to provide children with education on sexual and reproductive health as part of the mandatory school curriculum.

Political attitudes toward children

Finally, the committee also addressed the ways in which Australian politicians responded to children who took part in recent climate strikes.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison brushed off children’s demands for climate action, while others made patronising comments about them being better off in the classroom than on the streets protesting.

The committee emphasised that the effects of climate change have an undeniable impact on children’s rights and expressed “its concern and disappointment” that the children’s climate change protests

received a strongly worded negative response from those in authority, which demonstrates disrespect for their right to express their views on this important issue.

Time for change

None of these changes will happen without political will. Civil society, human rights groups and state children’s commissioners have crucial roles to play in continuing to advocate on behalf of children and speak up when they are being mistreated and their rights are being infringed.

The committee’s report card is not a badge of honour, and it puts Australia on a list of countries that have the necessary resources to support their next generation, but are failing to do so.

Authors: Faith Gordon, Lecturer in Criminology, Monash University

Read more http://theconversation.com/the-australian-government-is-not-listening-how-our-country-is-failing-to-protect-its-children-124779

NEWS

Is your horse normal? Now there’s an app for that

Vet: are you happy? Horse: neigh.evilgurl/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SASince ancient times, horse behaviour, and the bond between horses and humans, has been a source of intrigue and fascination. The horse-lore that...

Curious Kids: how are stars made?

Stars come into existence because of a powerful force of nature called gravity.ESA/Hubble & NASA, Acknowledgement: Judy SchmidtIf you have a question you’d like an expert to answer, send it...

a road trip reveals local museums stuck in a rut

Berry, and other tourist towns, are out of step with modern museum curation which is trying to include Aboriginal communities and their stories. ShutterstockAboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are...

Vital signs. Our compulsory super system is broken. We ought to axe it, or completely reform it

We're taking money from people, letting it fall through the cracks, and spending no less than we were on pensions.ShutterstockThe just-announced inquiry into Australia’s retirement income system ought to be...

Might consciousness and free will be the aces up our sleeves when it comes to competing with robots?

Our advantage lies in incommensurables, and it'll grow in importance.Franck V. on UnsplashThe rise of artificial intelligence has led to widespread concern about the role of humans in the workplaces...

What is perimenopause and how does it affect women's health in midlife?

Perimenopause lasts months for some women, and years for others. from www.shutterstock.comAll women know to expect the time in life when their periods finish and they reach menopause. Many might...

how 'city girls' can learn to feel at home in the country

Shutterstock/The ConversationA move to the country is often presented in popular culture as an idyllic life, a place where you can escape the pressures of the city.It’s in television shows...

Storm clouds avoid the bush, darken over the economy

National Farmers' Federation president Fiona Simson says she doesn't think the government has a drought policy.ShutterstockGovernment sources insist shock jock Alan Jones didn’t drive Thursday’s announcement of a cash payment...

Julianne Schultz appointed chair of The Conversation

Professor Julianne Schultz AM FAMA has been appointed chair of The Conversation Media Group, following the retirement of Harrison Young. Since becoming chairman in April 2017, Harrison has improved The...

Cats are not scared off by dingoes. We must find another way to protect native animals

New research suggests feral cats can probably outsmart dingoes. Wikimedia/AAPFeral cats are wreaking havoc on our native wildlife, eating more than a billion animals across Australia every year. But managing...

does chewing gum stay inside you for years?

Swallowing a lot of gum can cause it to stick together or stick to food in your gut. www.shuttershock.com, CC BYIf you have a question you’d like an expert...

what Australian discrimination law says about quotas

In March last year, Frances McDormand won the Academy Award for Best Actress. In her acceptance speech, she drew attention to the female nominees in the room and left them...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

Best Out of Waste in New South WalesGlamorous Gifts - 5 Luxe Giving Options When Only the Best Will DoFood for collagenIs Rhinoplasty Right for You?Winter fun in ColoradoSlots SecretsEssential Personal Hygiene Tips for TravelingTop 3 Affordable Activities To Do In Los AngelesTop 4 Reasons Why a Gas Fireplace Is an Ideal SolutionAdvantages of Using an Insulin PumpMaths – when it’s time to break free of your misbeliefsStrictly For Women:5 Steps To Top 5 Designer Sunglasses That Celebrities Are WearingBest Paradise Islands You Should Visit in AustraliaMost Popular Mexican Destinations for Australian Visitors