By Vanessa Picker:
Australia is often perceived as a country that offers equal opportunities. Despite this, equal opportunities are not provided for all. Due to the failure of successive federal, state and territory governments, to implement the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, segments of Australian society continue to be denied basic human rights. Most significantly, the rights of Australian children are significantly affected. This occurs largely as a result of the inability of decision makers to listen to our children, as noted by a recent report released by the Child Rights Taskforce. For this to improve, it is clear that initiatives and interventions must be created and implemented in close consultation and partnership with children. Further, the obligations of the Convention should be enacted in domestic, state and federal law. Finally, the creation of an Independent National Children’s Commissioner could enhance the extent to which Australian children are granted their rights, pursuant to the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It is clear that the rights of Australian children are continuously undermined, as there are several examples of segments such as indigenous children, being left behind. Despite projects and initiatives that aim to ‘close the gap’, Aboriginal children aged 10-17 are 24 times more likely to be jailed than non- Aboriginal children. Additionally, indigenous children 10 times more likely to be in out of home care and significant gaps still exist in terms of education and health. These alarming facts and statistics exemplify the notion that Australia has failed to effectively incorporate human rights into policy and legislative frameworks, thus denying many children their basic human rights.
Other segments of Australian children that continue to be left behind include children with disabilities and asylum seekers. Most notably, the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) still requires mandatory detention of children. This detention is not subject to any independent assessment. Further, there is no guarantee of periodic review of their detention and no time limit. For instance, in November 2010, when the Australian Human Rights Commission visited immigration detention facilities in Leonora, Western Australia, 50 out of the 66 children had been held in detention for longer than six months. This is particularly alarming as detention facilities often fail to accommodate for the specific needs of children. Again, this demonstrates a severe lack of protection for the fundamental rights of Australian children.
Until Australia makes a commitment to fully incorporate the obligations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, into domestic law, it is clear that the rights of Australian children will continuously be undermined. For this to occur, all domestic, federal and state legislation must be fully compatible with the Convention. Additionally, there would need to be effective legal remedies available, for situations in which the rights of a child are disregarded or undermined.
Most significantly, the Australian government must learn to listen to the children and communities that it aims to assist. Although a multitude of policies and interventions have been enacted, decisions are rarely informed by the rights and principles of the Convention. Further, there is a lack of meaningful participation and consultation with the children and communities that are affected most. The most prevalent example of ineffective policies is the Northern Territory Interventions, which resulted in escalating violence and dysfunction in Alice Springs.
Australia has continuously failed to abide by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, thus undermining the notion of equal opportunities. Whilst Australia is a country that upholds the rights of the majority of citizens, it is clear that children are continuously left behind. The culture of decision making that is not guided by the rights of the child must change. Australia must learn to listen.