Australian Government failing children, UN Child Rights Committee told

Australian Government failing children, UN Child Rights Committee told

The Human Rights Law Centre today submitted a report to the United Nations Child Rights Committee showing that Australian governments are failing to protect the rights of vulnerable children.

Australia is due to front the Child Rights Committee in Geneva in February, where the Government’s compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child will be measured. The HRLC’s report, ‘Justice for Children’, will inform the assessment of Australia.

Shahleena Musk, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that since Australia’s last review six years ago there has been major regression, but this review is an opportunity for Australia to lift its game.

"All kids – no matter who they are, where they come from or who they love - deserve to be given every opportunity to learn, grow and thrive. Australia should be leading the world when it comes to protecting children’s rights, but right now we’re lagging," said Ms Musk.

It’s expected the Committee will interrogate the Government on its continued cruelty towards children and families seeking asylum and the impact deplorable conditions in offshore detention are having on the mental health and wellbeing of children on Nauru.

"Over the last five years we have seen children on Nauru go from being playful and curious little kids to hopeless bodies on a mattress, unable to eat or speak," said Ms Musk.

"For five years the Australian Government has slowly squeezed the hope out of these kids for political gain – it’s cruel, it’s inexcusable and it is clearly illegal and we expect the Government will deservedly come under fire."

Australia’s punishingly low age of criminal responsibility, resulting in around 600 children under the age of 14 being imprisoned each year, will likely be high on the Committee’s agenda. Likewise, it is expected that racial inequality in Australia’s legal system resulting in the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children will be a key focus of the Committee’s questioning of the Australian Government.

"Australian governments must stop using police, courts and prisons to deal with kids who have made mistakes. Children as young as 10 should be in schools and playgrounds not harmful youth prisons like the notorious Don Dale. Children are being denied the opportunity to grow, learn and thrive, all because Australian governments are pushing through punitive laws that unfairly target and trap children in the quicksand of the criminal justice system," said Shahleena Musk.

The unacceptably high levels of violence, discrimination and bullying of LGBTI children in schools and online remains an issue Australia is yet to grapple with and an issue which will again come under scrutiny by the UN.

"The Australian Government has achieved some momentous milestones for LGBTI Australians particularly with marriage equality. However for many LGBTI children there is much that needs to be done to address the high levels of violence, discrimination and bullying they receive in schools and online," she added.

Download the HRLC’s report: Justice for Children.

Download the Australian Government’s report.

Background to the CROC review

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is an international human rights agreement adopted in 1989 by the UN General Assembly. It sets out the rights for children, taking into account their need for special assistance and protection due to their status and vulnerability. In signing the agreement, Australia accepted responsibility to take all steps to protect, respect and fulfil children’s rights in Australia. As part of this framework a Committee – a panel of experts on child rights – monitors implementation, and reviews compliance with the Convention. Australia was last reviewed in 2012.

In coming months, Australia will be examined by the Committee to determine whether it is complying with its obligations. Before Australia is examined, a group of child rights advocates including the Human Rights Law Centre, will have an opportunity to present to the Committee with an overview of the gaps in protections for children.

For further information please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519