Aboriginal children suffer 'shocking' treatment in Australia - probe

2017-11-17 17:09
Cody Shaw walks with a kangaroo tail outside the home of his aunt and indigenous campaigner Barbara Shaw in the Mount Nancy town camp at Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory state. (Greg Wood/AFP)

Cody Shaw walks with a kangaroo tail outside the home of his aunt and indigenous campaigner Barbara Shaw in the Mount Nancy town camp at Alice Springs in Australia's Northern Territory state. (Greg Wood/AFP)

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Sydney – Aboriginal children are subjected to "shocking" treatment at youth detention centres in northern Australia, an investigation revealed on Friday, after a video of violence against mostly indigenous boys sparked outrage.

The damning report said detained children suffered physical abuse, were encouraged or paid to perform humiliating acts and denied essentials like food, water and the use of toilets.

It also found that isolation was used inappropriately and punitively, which "caused suffering to very many young people and likely caused them enduring psychological damage".

ALSO READ: Australia failing human rights, indigenous people - Amnesty International

The government ordered the royal commission, a national inquiry, into youth detention last year after public broadcaster ABC aired footage showing children being tear-gassed and mistreated at the Northern Territory's Don Dale detention centre in 2014 and 2015.

The disturbing scenes included a 17-year-old boy hooded and shackled to a chair, which was likened to the treatment of suspected militants in Guantanamo Bay.

The royal commission looking into the Northern Territory abuse said the "shocking and systemic failures occurred over many years and were known and ignored at the highest levels".

Issues known for decades

It added that the region's government failed to provide proper support to children and families, to prevent youth detention.

The commission has called for the closure of Don Dale and made a raft of recommendations to overhaul the territory's youth justice system, including a ban on the detention of children under 14, as well as wider engagement with Aboriginal organisations for child protection.

ALSO READ: Aboriginal woman goes from 'non-citizen' to parliament

The federal government on Friday described the commission's findings as "abhorrent", pledging to work with the territory government to address the recommendations.

"All children deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. All children deserve to be safe," federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion told reporters on Friday.

Aboriginal groups said the finding highlighted issues that have been known for decades.

"For too long we have had reports, royal commissions, buck-passing between Commonwealth and state level and territory governments," said Donna Ah Chee, chief executive of the Central Australian Aboriginal Congress.

Aboriginals most disadvantaged Australians

"We are going to watch with great vigilance that [these recommendations] are implemented."

Aboriginals make up about 3% of the national population of 24 million people but are among the most disadvantaged Australians, with many living in the Northern Territory.

Aboriginal children are 24 times more likely to be detained than non-indigenous Australian children, according to Amnesty International. A government-backed report said last year that their imprisonment rate had increased by 77% over the last 15 years.

Shahleena Musk, a lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre, who has worked with children in Don Dale, demanded changes to the youth justice system and called on the government to release funding to allow the implementation of the report's recommendations.

"It's time to turn our backs on punitive approaches like mandatory sentencing and unfair bail laws that trap children in the bottomless pit of the criminal justice system," she said in a statement.

"Instead, children should be diverted into community support programmes that help them succeed in life."

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Read more on:    australia  |  human rights  |  child abuse  |  racism

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