A damning report highlights the failure of successive governments to protect our most needy young people
Jun 12, 2016 | News | by The Learning Press staff
Australia has failed in its duty to protect vulnerable children over more than two decades, a major report into the lives of our young people has found.
The report comes from the Australian Child Rights Taskforce, a network made up of more than 100 organisations involved in the protection, promotion and fulfilment of the rights of the nation’s children.
Convened by UNICEF Australia and the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre, the taskforce is responsible for holding the Government to account on its commitment to the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child.
It paints a stark picture of Australia’s lack of progress in protecting vulnerable children over 25 years as a signatory to the convention, highlight “entrenched issues” that remain for the nation’s most vulnerable children.
The study highlights the fact that one in six Australian children still live in poverty despite two decades of economic growth.
It shows 70,000 children receiving support from homelessness services, 43,000 living in out-of-home care and young asylum seekers spending an average of 457 days in detention.
One fifth of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are in out-of-home care, it says, and ATSI children are 29 times more likely to be in juvenile detention than their non-Indigenous peers.
Chair of Children's Rights International, former chief justice Alastair Nicholson, said: "This report makes it clear that since the early 1990s, successive Australian governments have consistently breached the Convention on the Rights of the Child and show every intention of continuing to do so.
"This is an unacceptable situation and one about which all Australians should be concerned.
“It highlights a failure in public policy development to consider the impact on children and build preventative measures, exemplified by the recent reforms of child care benefits that do not provide for children of non-working parents.”
The report acknowledges that many Australian children have “received the historical benefits of a developed economy, a high functioning health system, accessible education, a good social welfare system and labour force protection for working families.”
But it also says a “significant number” have missed out on these safety net benefits through entrenched poverty, discrimination, social exclusion and disadvantage.
It says the rights and perceptions of same sex attracted children have seen a “dramatic improvement” through the repealing of laws that criminalise homosexuality, the introduction of protective legislation and greater representation in the media.
And it recognises government efforts in promoting the rights of Indigenous children and supporting young people with disabilities - while stressing that serious challenges remain for both groups and more needs to be done.
It also shows Australia lagging behind other developed nations in its approach to childcare saying: “Participation in early childhood education and care by children who are three years old is below many comparable countries and requires urgent attention.
“The most significant barrier to participation remains the affordability of ECEC services with childcare prices having increased significantly over the past 10 years.”
Within its numerous recommendations, the report urges greater flexibility in school education curriculum content, the creation of learning environments which feel “culturally safe” for Indigenous students, and further professional development for teachers.
In launching the report, UNICEF Australia CEO Adrian Graham described it as “a clear reminder that Australia must place equity at the heart of our agenda for children, with the idea that no child should be left behind”.
“Australia is not the lucky country for many children,” he said.
“The Taskforce calls on the Australian Government to adopt a comprehensive national policy agenda for children that includes measures to ensure that all children growing up in Australia have a decent quality of life.”
A UNICEF report release in April ranked Australia 27th out of 35 OECD nations for health equality and 24th out of 37 for education equality.