UN Committee grills Australian Government on failing to respect the rights of children

UN Committee grills Australian Government on failing to respect the rights of children

This week at the United Nations in Geneva, the Committee on the Rights of the Child is reviewing the Australian Government’s track record when it comes to upholding and protecting the rights of children in accordance with the standards set by international law.

Shahleena Musk, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, who is in Geneva to brief the Committee for the review, said Australian governments have a lot of explaining to do.

“The fact that laws in Australia allow 10 year old children to be sent to prison is a problem in and of itself, but on top of that we’re seeing terribly cruel and harmful treatment of children in these prisons,” said Ms Musk.

Following the exposé of child abuse in the Northern Territory’s Don Dale youth prison, the Commonwealth Government held a Royal Commission to investigate the youth justice system and advise on reforms. But nearly two years later, key recommendations that would prevent the imprisonment of vulnerable young children are yet to be actioned.

“Right now the Australian criminal legal process is hurting and harming young children. Ten year old kids belong with their families, in their communities, and in schools, they don’t belong in prisons. Governments must change the law to raise the age that children can be sent to prison from 10 to 14,” said Ms Musk.

The Australian Government is also likely to come under heavy fire for its cruel treatment of refugee children.

Australian Government policy is to send anyone seeking asylum who arrives in Australia by boat to a cruel limbo in an offshore camp where they can be held indefinitely. The Government also separates families in a range of ways with traumatic consequences for children.

“Our government has robbed so many children of their childhoods. Our refugee policies are deliberately punitive, they seek to hurt innocent children as a way to deter other people from seeking safety in Australia. It’s completely unacceptable, yet without significant reform this is the fate that still awaits the next child who arrives on our shores seeking safety,” said Ms Musk.

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 ratifying 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.

The Report, Justice for Children, that the Human Rights Law Centre submitted to the committee in November 2018 can be downloaded here.


For further information, please contact:
Shahleena Musk (in Geneva) on +41 76 290 62 90
or Tom Clarke (in Melbourne) on 0422 545 763 or tom.clarke@hrlc.org.au