Being involved in Australia’s review before the United Nations Committee was definitely an eye opening experience. After studying Rights of the Child in International Law in Copenhagen, I thought I had a little bit of a grasp of what the Review would be like. In reality, though, it was much less formal, and much less based on the texts of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the optional protocols than I thought it would be. The committee used the convention as a scaffold, but questioned the Australian delegation much more widely.
If I were to summarise the two day review, I would have to say this: Australia has a high standard of living, and of respect for rights, for most children within its borders. The main issues before the Committee were inadequate data collection (which, perhaps, hid further issues), the inequality of rights protection (especially for at-risk groups, such as children experiencing homelessness, indigenous Australians and those applying for Refugee status), and cultural or semantic issues, such as the division in Australia about the legality of corporal punishment, and the a definition of “slavery” in Australian law which does not satisfy the treaty requirements.
However, there are also areas where we should be proud of our country. Australia’s innovative approach to preventing uptake of cigarettes by children, namely the plain packaging law, whilst being disputed in the World Trade Organisation, was hailed as a radical and important step forward by the Committee on the Rights of the Child. Further, apparently our legislation regarding sex-tourism is amongst the strongest in the world, with a never-before-seen allowance for deportation for trial of Australians, or persons in Australia, for offenses committed abroad, even if Australia does not have bilateral treaties requiring such extradition.
I think the best way to imaging the road forward for Australia would be to look at Ms Mauras’ final words before the Australian delegation, where she listed questions unanswered and areas of improvement:
- Why have you kept your reservation to Article 37(b)?
- Australia’s reservation seems only to allow for an exception which is already allowed for within the words of the treaty, namely, imprisoning children and adults together where they are family
- 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?
- There is still, in Australia, the common law defence to assault of “reasonable chastisement” – which allows for corporal punishment
- What of the over-diagnosis of children of ADHD and other issues? And the overuse of psychotropic drugs?
- The gentlemen sitting next to me, from a European NGO, came here especially to hear submissions on this issue, which was largely ignored by the delegation.
- What about the low rates of breastfeeding?
- Whilst there is a high incidence of breastfeeding initiation (due to encouragement by hospital staff) the continuation of breastfeeding is too uncommon, and should be encouraged, further, by the government and health services.
- What of alcoholism in aboriginal communities? How are the root causes being tackled? 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 Northern Territory Intervention.
- The Australian delegation showed that they understood this to be an issue, and that there are measures being taken to try and improve this, however, the committee specifically criticised the lack of rich data, and highlighted the lack of evidence of the effectiveness of the Northern Territory Intervention.
- We need more information on education, especially early childhood education, especially in aboriginal communities?
- Again, another ineffective data collection issue.
- We need more information on the grey areas in juvenile justice (10-14 and 14-18 year olds)
- What of violations by Australian Companies abroad?
- This is, perhaps, a new angle for the committee to take. A delegation from the International Commission of Jurists was hoping to hear more about this. Whilst the committee flagged this as an issue, and gave examples of breaches, mainly in mining and fisheries, of Child Rights by Australian companies abroad, the issue remained largely unanswered by government.
- We invite the Australia to sign and ratify Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on a Communications Procedure,to the CRC.
- This could be a very important optional protocol, and a central role for the new Children’s Commissioner in Australia.
Thus, whilst most children in Australia have their rights protected, there are still those whose rights are inadequately protected. Australia could, in the future, do more to improve the lives of these children, and, from the policy statements we heard from the Australian Delegation, the Government is moving in the right direction, and is willing to be a pioneer. One area Australia, with the help of the committee, could pioneer, would be to help other countries protect their rights, through conditional aid, restrictions on Australian companies abroad, and more. I left this committee with a much more thorough understanding of Child Rights, and of the issues facing children in Australia, but I also left this meeting thinking that Australia was a world leader, and should continue to be, in the field of child rights.
- Australia’s review in the UNCRC – Session 1 live blog (oatsandsugar.com)
- Australia’s review in the UNCRC – Session 3 live blog (oatsandsugar.com)
- Australia’s review in the UNCRC – Session 2 live blog (oatsandsugar.com)
- Quick reflections on Session 1 of Australia’s review before the UNCRC (oatsandsugar.com)
- National Child Rights Taskforce
This article was syndicated on Survive Law.