June 25, 2012
The UN report noted that indigenous children were significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice and child protection systems.
The UN report noted that indigenous children were significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice and child protection systems. Photo: Angela Wylie
A UNITED Nations committee has pulled up Australia on the status of its children, citing concerns from ''serious and widespread'' racial discrimination faced by indigenous youth to inadequate numbers of newborns being breastfed by their mothers.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child report notes Australia is ''one of the most affluent economies of the world'' but says the nation still lacks a comprehensive national law setting out children's rights.
Urging the Federal Government to consider such a law, the committee said at present there were ''fragmentation and inconsistencies'' in how children's rights were handled across states and territories.
Advertisement: Story continues below
As a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Australia is subject to the compulsory review by the international committee of child experts who meet in Geneva.
''Although it's written in diplomatic UN language, it's a very damning report,'' said Associate Professor Paula Gerber, from the Castan Centre for Human Rights Law. ''The committee notes we are affluent, yet we are not meeting the higher expectations that we can meet.''
Shane Duffy, from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, said the review yet again highlighted the unaddressed discrimination faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
"It is highly disappointing that yet again Australia has been hauled over the coals …,'' Mr Duffy said.
In the report, published this month, the committee reserved some of its strongest words for indigenous children who it noted were significantly overrepresented in the criminal justice and child protection systems.
''Aboriginal Australians are severely over-represented in prison, with a particularly serious overrepresentation of Aboriginal women often resulting in their children being subject to ad-hoc and insecure placement in alternative care,'' the report said.
But it also raised a raft of general issues including registering the poor levels of breastfeeding across the nation.
''The committee is concerned that only approximately 15 per cent of all mothers continue exclusively breastfeeding until their child is six months old,'' the UN report said.
Among its recommendations, the experts have called on Australia to review the newly established Paid Parental Leave scheme and other measures
''with a view to considering amendments that would support exclusive breastfeeding for six months by working mothers''.
Elsewhere, the experts also found special protection measures for asylum-seeking and refugee children fell far short of international requirements.
While noting ''efforts'' to move children and vulnerable families in immigration detention facilities to places such as community-based detention arrangements , the committee was ''deeply concerned'' about asylum issues.Tackling reproductive and sexual health, the UN committee said it was also ''deeply concerned'' at the marked increases in the rates of sexually transmissible infections among Australia's young people and the reported low proportion of youth practising safe sex.
Ben Schokman, from the Human Rights Law Centre, said the report showed that many groups of children faced ''significant hurdles to their lives, survival and healthy development'' across a large number of areas.