Reporting live from Geneva, at the Palais Wilson for the 60th Session of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, with the Australian Delegation. For a live video stream, check out the webcast! Twitter: #ChildRightsUN, @OatsandSugar, @JanChildRights, @UNICEFAustralia.
13:37 – Committee members deliberating between themselves, in one and a half hours the third session (on the Optional Protocols, on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and children in armed conflict) begins.
15:03 – After the private meeting from 1400-1500, we are about to start the evening session. This afternoon’s session is Australia’s report – a conclusion of the questions on the OP’s, and then answers.
15:04 – LEE – Questions for OPAC. Neither of the reporting guidelines on OPAC have been followed. Re: recruitment, and targeted recruitment in schools, are persons from disadvantaged groups targeted? Re: arms trade, you export to countries such as Israel, Thailand and more which may breach CRC guidelines on children in armed conflict. What are you doing to prevent small arms export?
15:06 – CORDONO – Re: Defence Standing Orders, all must be done to prevent under 18’s in active theatre, but there are exceptions, which may be too loose. Further, are children to be penalised for withdrawing from the armed forces without parental consent. How do you link OPAC with child labour, under 18’s used in security companies, which are in turn hired by the army.
15:09 – SANDBERG – Reiterate question from yesterday, do anti-terror laws apply to under 18’s?
15:10 – CHAIR – Re: Cadets, you may sign up from the age of 12, and Cadets are separate from the army, and there is no obligation to move into the army, but there are links between the bodies. What is concerning is that these cadets are involved in military-style exercises: is this an encouragement to be excited about the use of weapons?
15:11 – POLLAR – Minimum age of voluntary recruitment is 17, but there is information on people of the age 16 and 9 months applying. How many under 18’s are enrolled? Does the government have a duty of care for these applicants?
15:13 – WIJEMANNE – There might be child soldiers amongst refugee applicant, what mechanisms do you have in place for their recovery? Since you export small arms, are they being used in countries where children participate in hostilities?
15:14 – CHAIR – End of questions for both protocols, for Australia to respond.
15:15 – MANNING – Re: training and dissemination of the treaty generally. The treaty (OP1) isn’t explicitly trained or educated on. The treaty is available on the website of DFAT, but it isn’t expressly educated. Also, measures to do with cyber-safety further educate children on their rights under this treaty. Further, programs such as the “cyber-safety help button” could help prevent possible mistreatment of children which could include online child grooming or exploitation. Training on the requirements under the protocol takes place in areas where it is relevant, e.g. there is training in immigration to identify victims of trafficking, forced marriages, etc.
15:22 – AYRE – in Australian schools, teaching practices allow for “a wide range of resources”, such as the CRC online to be used, especially in areas such as civics and citizenship. “The curriculum is designed to facilitate the education of children in this area”.
15:23 – CHAIR – The system that you have developed (already used by 300,000 users – the “cyber-security button”) – what happens when you press this alarm button? Regarding training, you explained the training of professionals, but, regarding both OPs, to what extent are these themes contained within the compulsory training of professionals? Or is it just up to the discretion of children?
15:24 – MANNING – the button is just an application, with information and assistance only, it is not an alarm.
15:26 – WOOLCOTT – Re: conditionality of aid. It is coordination between countries, and inter-governmental participation, rather than conditionality, which is being used.
15:29 – MANNING – The government is aware that the government is a destination country for trafficking. There are visa allowances for victims of trafficking, as well as immediate family, to allow them to stay in Australia.
15:32 – McKENZIE – Re: support for trafficked people program. 193 persons have recieved support in the past 8 years. This assists victims, and is run by the Red Cross, and funded by the government. This includes training for community persons, and intensive support (up to 45 days, 90 days if they are willing to participate with the police, and longer if they are within the criminal justice system [e.g. as witnesses to a trial]).
15:34 – MANNING – Re: age of consent and prostitution law in different states. A child that is found to be a victim of prostitution would not be charged in Australia.
15:35 – CHAIR – What about the age of sexual consent? It is 16, not 18, so would a child not be protected under the convention between the age of 16 and 18? Is the age of consent (16) also the age where the child can legally enter prostitution or pornography?
15:36 – MANNING – there is a distinction between the age of consent and child prostitution. The age of consent is 16, but Australian law defines a child as under 18 in prostitution laws.
15:37 – McKENZIE – Children at risk and services for victims. Concerns about sexual abuse led to the NT intervention. It is the least common form of abuse in Indigenous communities, but it is also the least likely of all forms of abuse to be reported, therefore mandatory reporting is important. There is a national counselling service for domestic and sexual abuse, and there are other response measures that are available to everyone. They are trained to assist children in the first instance, and then they refer the children to appropriate counsellors. There is, further, a national marketing program, “the line”, that uses social media to educate children.
15:46 – KOTRANE – Going back to Australia’s answer to the list of issues – we asked “did state parties have provisions preventing children being solicited online, particularly children under the age of 16”. Are children between 16-18 protected? In your answer, you stated that most offenses only protect those under the age of 16, and yet you are talking about child pornography being illegal under the age of 18. There seems to be a contradiction.
15:49 – WOOLCOTT – We are considering a response, and we will get back to you.
15:52 – MANNING – Re: Sex tourism. As the committee is aware, there is strong extraterritorial legislation against sex tourism. A person committing an offense abroad may be tried in Australia, and investigated by Australian authorities. Further, there is a sex-tourist register, which accounts for all the persons convicted of this offence.
15:55 – GURÁN – We are aware of your positive steps in punitive measure. What about steps to prevent sex tourism? And to prevent sex tourism within Australia.
15:56 – MANNING – There are now criminal offenses in preparatory acts (not just the act itself) which could be used to prevent sex tourism. Further, international police cooperation has been used to prevent sex tourism.
15:58 – CHAIR – Regarding the register, it is quite comprehensive. What degree is this register publicised or is it just for the police?
15:59 – MANNING – The Australian National Child Offender Register contains information on all persons who commit offenses, and is available only to police. The commonwealth manages it on behalf of the states and territories.
16:00 – McKENZIE – Re sexual abuse in Indigenous communities. Strong investment in programs, especially in the Northern Territory, to prevent such abuse in the area. This investment is to allow persons in remote communities access to the same degree as persons in the city. One example is funding for “community night patrols”, which have been found to be well received and particularly effective. Further, health measures and spending are also targeted at this issue. NT communities still have very high school absences, sometimes children only go to school half the time.
16:05 – CHAIR – We are straying from the topic. We still don’t have a response on the definition of crimes.
16:06 – LEE – Children who are subject to sale or abuse should not be called “antisocial”.
16:07 – GURÁN – If you could come back to the questions on data collection. In the NT, are there results on the reduction of child prostitution in indigenous communities.
16:07 – McKENZIE – I was not intending to call victims antisocial. Regarding child prostitution in indigenous communities, there are many programs targetting this directly, including the provision of the “special coercive powers” in the NT. We are still finding out how useful it is. I wouldn’t like to say that we have solved the problems.
16:10 – MANNING – Are all areas of sale of children covered? There are strict laws regarding slavery, and it is comprehensively criminalised. Trafficking in children is also specifically criminalised. Australia has criminalised the removal of organs, and there is a law coming in which will criminalise all trafficking in organs (not just connected with people trafficking). Forced labour is also criminalised, and there is a standalone offense of it, without the need for a trafficking offense. Further, there is a bill for “slavery type offences” including forced marriage. These offenses are “aggrevated” if the victim is a child, and this would lead to increased sentences.
16:13 – CHAIR – what about acting as an intermediary for adoption?
16:14 – MANNING – it is an offense to recieve money for consent for adoption, and there is ancillary liability to this offense.
16:14 – KATRONE – We are persuaded that the criminal law punishes involvement in illegal involvement – but is this defined as “sale” or is it just a prohibition. This definition is a question of tone, and is required by the Optional Protocol.
16:16 – MANNING – The offense is a crime, not merely a breach of adoption protocol. No mention on whether it is defined as a sale. “The offenses aren’t called a sale of children” – but Australia still prohibits the conduct.
16:17 – MANNING – Re persons 16-18 and pornography. There is an age of consent issue, here. The definition of grooming could catch 16-18 year old chatting sexually with each other online [KATRONE shakes his head], but pornography creation law protects all persons under 18.
16:19 – CHAIR – There seems to be a difference, the age of consent is 16, but prostitution law protects those under 18. What criminal liability is held by agents (not the person using the pornography, but the ISP’s etc.) related to underage pornography.
16:20 – KOTRANE – The response to the list of issues says that criminal liability only covers “intentional acts”, which doesn’t cover the issue adequately.
16:21 – MANNING – The liability can extend to natural persons and incorporated bodies (but what about the issue of non-intentional participation, such as hosting child pornography without knowledge, I believe that was the question). Under Australian law, there must be intention, and incidental acts or acts without knowledge are not covered by the offence.
16:23 – WOOLCOTT – ISP’s voluntary block such content, but criminalising it would jeopardise freedom of expression.
16:24 – CHAIR – My question aimed at companies acting with knowledge, such as a company selling child pornography or facilitating illegal adoption. Further, is this just regarding slaver? Or can a body corporate by found guilty for all offenses under this treaty?
16:25 – MANNING – Criminal liability can extend to corporate bodies for all offenses, not just slavery-type offenses.
16:27 – CHAIR – You have a theory, under which, you may extradite without a multi or bilateral treaty. This is a good theory, has it ever been used?
16:27 – MANNING – This has not been exercised yet.
16:29 – WOOLCOTT – Re: Data collection. There is an issue from the committee regarding the data collection services, especially regarding the aggregation and detail of the data. But “we can do better”. There is not, yet, data collection on prostitution, sale and other OP related offenses. Australia is looking to improve on its data collection and processing practices. We understand that it remains an issue … and we are looking to improve this. There is not yet a national data collection system of the type you have been asking.
16:31 – MANNING – Birth Registration – the Australian government is aware of the issue of problems of birth registration, a problem which particularly affects indigenous communities. There are policies to increasing registration, and there are processes to allow children who were not registered at birth to be registered.
16:35 – MANNING – Regarding reparations for victims of Australian sex-tourists. It is possible under Australian federal law, but we don’t have any information of it being done yet. Federal law does allow for reparations, but we don’t have details on whether it has occurred.
16:37 – CHAIR – If reparations are possible, and used, they are valid for all infractions, also for sale of children and prostitution. What of the status of victims in criminal proceedings? What are the procedures for children as witnesses in criminal trials.
16:38 – MANNING – Regarding child victims and processes regarding them, Australia ensures that the best interest of the child are represented at all times in the justice system. Examples include special requirements for cross examination, use of video link evidence, etc.
16:40 – CHAIR – 10 minute break, when we reconvene, we will move from discussion of the OPSC to the discussion of the OPAC.
16:58 – CHAIR – And we’re back.
16:57 – MAJOR GENERAL BRYAN DAWSON AM – First question I’ll address is regarding targeting of schools for recruitment. The ADF does conduct careers activities at schools, typically in wider career open days. Activities with schools are designed to inform older students.
Regarding regulations around the deployment of underage persons to areas of hostilities. “All feasible measures that minors do not participate” where it is not too burdensome. The CO is not required to remove the child where it would “prejudice the mission”, but the CO still must do everything possible. Australia does not plan on, or intend to deploy minors. How do we define “direct participation?”, we avoid that by preventing minors from being deployed at all to areas of hostilities.
Regarding the question of resignation of persons under 18 without parental permission (there may be an obligation of them to pay back some moneys, but this obligation only comes on after two years, and would thus not be applicable to children). If a parent withdraws his consent whilst the child is under 18, the child may be terminated.
Regarding Cadets and firearms training. The acts creating the ADF state that the Cadets are specifically not part of the ADF, they are a youth development system. They are not an armed group, there is no use of arms to achieve objectives, use of arms is limited to training. The activities conducted include obstacle courses, swimming, navigation, training, parades, etc. Military offensive/defensive training is not used. Firearms are part of the curriculum, but to develop safety and teamwork, and to give a cadet pride, confidence and respect. Targets are not shaped like humans or animals.
17:09 – LEE – My concern is with targeting of secondary schools. What about where there are linguistic challenges, and other marginal groups. Are parents who don’t speak english provided with information in their language?
17:10 – CHAIR – We are aware that Cadets are not part of the ADF per se, but the training seems to be militarily flavoured, thus, there must be a link, is there not the goal of getting people to join the army?
17:11 – DAWSON – How under 18s are dealt with in the recruitment process. It must be voluntary, and there must be written consent. The minor must be informed of the duty in the military service. All candidates are questioned about their knowledge of the ADF, and only those with mature knowledge are allowed to progress in the recruitment process. Careers displays give information, they provide information, and then the person would join the recruitment process. If the parent is found not to speak English, appropriate steps are taken to ensure that the consent is informed.
Re: Cadets. The cadets aren’t part of the defence force. The purpose is “youth development”, there is no direct link with joining the army, and a person in the cadets must go through the same recruitment process.
Re: 16.5 year olds able to apply to the ADF, and individuals of the age of 16 wanting to joint the Australian Defence Force Academy ADFA. ADFA delivers tertiary education, that takes 3 or 4 years, and the student will be 20 or 21 by the time they graduate. They can apply at 16, this allows time for the application process, so they can enter the academy once they have graduated (at the age of 17 or 18). You can apply for the ADF at 16.5, but you are only enlisted at 17. What of the duty of care for individuals 17-18 years old. COs responsible for minors must make sure that the standing orders take minors into consideration, especially regarding state laws regarding alcohol, cigarrettes, tattoos, pornography and others, health and welfare, and more. Thus, there is a strict duty.
Re: conscription. Australia didn’t use it in the First World War, but did in the Second World War, and in the Vietname War. No conscription since then (’72). No government seeks to have compulsory service. Conscription, if it does occur, would happen in accordance to OPAC.
17:23 – CORDONA – What about private security companies using children, who are used by the Army? Do you have any data on Australian military action overseas on the use of minors?
17:24 – DAWSON – The Defence Force has no information showing children being used in conflict by Australia.
17:24 – CHAIR – What about the criminal aspect of recruitment? Recruitment of minors is criminalised in Australia – if it is done by the Armed Forces, the limit is 15, if it is armed groups, the limit is 18. Why this distinction?
17:25 – MANNING – We don’t have information on this.
17:26 – WOOLCOTT – Re: Small arms trade. These are devastating, and Australia will not permit the export if there is information to show that the arms will be used by or against children. Australia is a member of the international body on arms trade, and I believe it follows best practice in export.
17:28 – LEE – You export to Pakistan, and the other countries mentioned, who use children.
17:29 – WOOLCOTT – We have criteria for arms export, and those exports would be found to have satisfied those criteria. We would have judged them not to have crossed our international obligations, including our obligations under OPAC.
17:30 – WOOLCOTT – Re private security companies. We look at the Montroux (sp?) process, and other standards on private security companies. However, we don’t have information on children being used by these companies.
17:31 – POLLARD – Any information on training in the requirements of OPAC?
17:32 – DAWSON – There is good knowledge, and education of the requirements under OPAC, cites anecdotal evidence of his work as commandant of ADFA.
17:33 – CARDONA – Back to the involvement of children in private security companies. I know you don’t have data on this, but are there policies and legislation on this, are you committed to the Montroux document? And what of companies that support the army?
17:35 – DAWSON – We are committed to the document, but we don’t have information on supporting companies, or policies.
17:35 – CHAIR – Re identification of migrant children who were involved in military activities outside your countries. What services are available to them? How do you identify them?
17:36 – POPE – Immigration offices– We have experience with former child soldiers. Don’t have information on processes for identification, but we have a strogn body to rehabilitate former child soldiers, alongside other victims, such as victims of torture.
17:37 – MANNING – Implementation of the treaty to Australian Law. There are no laws in Australia which contradict this treaty.
17:39 – WOOLCOTT – Aid and children in armed conflict. We fund UNICEF on children in armed conflict. We fund MRM Watch list as well. And Save the Children Nepal to rehabilitate former child soldiers. And to the Uganda fund.
17:41 – CHAIR – We have finished our dialogue on OPAC, and I propose we close this session. I will now give the floor to the rapporteurs and then the Australian head of delegation.
17:42 – MAURAS – We could appreciate that there is a lot that is happening in terms of improvements for children, but there are issues that come out: coherence, coordination, effectiveness, inequality of application and more. Hopefully the national framework would assist in this. We would also welcome a Human Rights Charter in Australia. Many questions were left unanswered:
- Why have you kept your reservation to Article 37(b)?
- There is a link between violence and corporal punishment, there needs to be more done, both legally and societally. What is so difficult about totally banning corporal punishment?
- What of the over-diagnosis of children of ADHD and other issues? And the overuse of phsycotropic drugs?
- What about the low rates of breastfeeding?
- What of alcoholism in aboriginal communities? How are the root causes being tackled?
- We need more information on education, especially early childhood education, especially in aboriginal communities?
- We need more information on the grey areas in juvenile justice (10-14 and 14-18 year olds)
- Good efforts on children with disabilities, and we hope to see more on this.
- What of violations by Australian Companies abroad?
- We were left with a sense that there is lack of understanding of Aboriginal issues, especially regarding “closing the gap” and self determination. And we are concerned about the NT intervention.
- We invite the Australia to sign and ratify OP3 to the CRC.
17:50 – GURÁN – I agree, but I would like to add:
- Dissemination of information on the OPs is necessary
- Australian legislation must be brought fully inline with the OP, especially with regards to definitional requirements of the OP
17:43 – POLLARD – the discussion has enlightened the committee, and that there is political will to comply. All that is needed “is for Australia to remain in the vanguard” of countries in this issue. Further, Australia should continue to help other nations via bilateral relations.
“Please convey our warmest greetings to the children of Australia.”
17:54 – WOOLCOTT – Closing comments, special thanks to country reporters, special thanks to the NGO community (Woohoo!) and the Australian Human Rights Committee.
17:57 – CHAIR – Closing remarks, “we have a specific purpose in mind” when asking all of our questions. And we thank you in advance for the answers that you will send us for the questions that have not yet been answered. Further, we hope you sign the third Optional Protocol. This closes this session.