By Vanessa Picker:
The Australian Government is being questioned by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, in a critical meeting at Geneva. This represents an integral opportunity for Australia to demonstrate to the international community that it is committed to improving the rights and welfare of children.
Spanning over two days, the questions from the UN have covered integral issues such as the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, children of asylum seekers and children in out of home care. In particular, the UN has highlighted disappointment as to the lack of action has been taken over the last 5 years, in relation to the recommendations previously passed down. Thus, this review is critical, in terms of demonstrating that the issues are actually being taken seriously.
Although the Australian Government announced the implementation of a National Children’s Commissioner in April, there are still significant issues that need to be addressed. The three groups of children that have been identified as being particularly disadvantaged due to a failure of governments include Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children, children of asylum seekers and children in out of home care.
The review has not been limited to these three groups of children however. Another shocking factor to be considered is that the latest UNICEF research has highlighted that 10.9 per cent of Australian children are living below the poverty line. Considering that Australia is one of the richest countries in the world, this is unacceptable.
The Childs Rights Taskforce, a coalition of NGO’s committed to the protection and promotion of child rights is also present in Geneva for the review. Importantly, the Child Rights Taskforce includes a Youth Reporter; 22 year old Janani Muhunthan. She was inspired to undertake the role after growing up in Zimbabwe and Papua New Guinea, where she continuously saw ‘voiceless children’ being affected by human rights abuses, due to a lack of protection and awareness.
Her primary goal has been to share the Australian Government’s review by the Geneva based United Nations Committee, with young Australians, using social media. Ms Muhunthan noted that Australia was asked by the UN, in October 2011 to address a multitude of children’s rights issues. Thus, the June session is fundamentally an opportunity to show the international community exactly how it has responded.
Ultimately, Australia must exhibit international human rights leadership and offer strong human rights protection for children and young people. The failure to uphold a strong commitment to its children was exemplified in the 2011 Listen to Children Report, released by the Childs Rights Taskforce. This included alarming statistics and stories, including the disproportionate representation of Indigenous youth in juvenile detention centres and the fact that mandatory detention is often implemented for child asylum seekers.
In light of Australia’s failed commitment to protect its children, it is hoped that the government will be held to account in a way that will tangibly improve the lives of Australia’s most vulnerable children.