Archives For Australia

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.


The Committee room in Palais Wilson

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.


Members of the Australian Child Rights Taskforce with Committee Member Mauras

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.

Jan with Mr Zermatten, Committee Chair

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)
    • ibid. 
  • 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.

An Australian Mission to Geneva intern handing out Government policy summaries to committee members


Mr Jean Zermatten’s message to Australian Children from Johanan Ottensooser on Vimeo.

Mr Jean Zermatten, Chairperson of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, has a message for the youth of Australia.

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.

15:04LEE – 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?

15:06CORDONO – 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.

15:09SANDBERG – Reiterate question from yesterday, do anti-terror laws apply to under 18’s?

15:10CHAIR – 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?

15:11POLLARMinimum 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?

15:13WIJEMANNE – 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?

15:14CHAIR – End of questions for both protocols, for Australia to respond.

15:15MANNING – 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.

15:22AYRE – 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”.

15:23CHAIR – 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?

15:24MANNING – the button is just an application, with information and assistance only, it is not an alarm.

15:26WOOLCOTT – Re: conditionality of aid.  It is coordination between countries, and inter-governmental participation, rather than conditionality, which is being used.

15:29MANNINGThe 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]).

15:34MANNING – 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.

15:35CHAIR – 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?

15:36MANNING – 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.

15:37McKENZIE – 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.

15:46KOTRANE – 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.

15:49WOOLCOTT – We are considering a response, and we will get back to you.

15:52MANNING – 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.

15:55GURÁN – 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.

15:58CHAIR – Regarding the register, it is quite comprehensive.  What degree is this register publicised or is it just for the police?

15:59MANNING – 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.

16:00McKENZIE – 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.

16:05CHAIR – We are straying from the topic.  We still don’t have a response on the definition of crimes.

16:06LEE – Children who are subject to sale or abuse should not be called “antisocial”.

16:07GURÁN – 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.

16:07McKENZIE – 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.

16:10MANNING – 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.

16:13CHAIR – what about acting as an intermediary for adoption?

16:14MANNING – it is an offense to recieve money for consent for adoption, and there is ancillary liability to this offense.

16:14KATRONE – 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.

16:16MANNING – 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.

16:17MANNING – 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.

16:19CHAIR – 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.

16:20KOTRANE – The response to the list of issues says that criminal liability only covers “intentional acts”, which doesn’t cover the issue adequately.

16:21MANNING – 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.

16:23WOOLCOTT – ISP’s voluntary block such content, but criminalising it would jeopardise freedom of expression.

16:24CHAIR – 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?

16:25MANNING – Criminal liability can extend to corporate bodies for all offenses, not just slavery-type offenses.

16:27CHAIR – 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?

16:27MANNING – This has not been exercised yet.

16:29WOOLCOTT – 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.

16:31MANNING – 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.

16:35MANNING – 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.

16:37CHAIR – 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.

16:38MANNING – 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.

16:40CHAIR – 10 minute break, when we reconvene, we will move from discussion of the OPSC to the discussion of the OPAC.

16:58CHAIR – And we’re back.

16:57MAJOR 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.

17:09LEE – 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?

17:10CHAIR – 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?

17:11DAWSON – 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.

17:23CORDONA – 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.

17:24CHAIR – 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?

17:25MANNING – We don’t have information on this.

17:26WOOLCOTT – 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.

17:28LEE – You export to Pakistan, and the other countries mentioned, who use children.

17:29WOOLCOTT – 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.

17:30WOOLCOTT – 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.

17:31POLLARD – Any information on training in the requirements of OPAC?

17:32DAWSON – There is good knowledge, and education of the requirements under OPAC, cites anecdotal evidence of his work as commandant of ADFA.

17:33CARDONA – 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?

17:35DAWSON – We are committed to the document, but we don’t have information on supporting companies, or policies.

17:35CHAIR – 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?

17:36POPE – 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.

17:37MANNING – Implementation of the treaty to Australian Law.  There are no laws in Australia which contradict this treaty.

17:39WOOLCOTT – 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.

17:41CHAIR – 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.

17:42MAURAS – 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.

17:50GURÁN – 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

17:43POLLARD – 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.”

17:54WOOLCOTT – Closing comments, special thanks to country reporters, special thanks to the NGO community (Woohoo!) and the Australian Human Rights Committee.

17:57CHAIR – 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.

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!  Follow @Janchildrights and @Oatsandsugar for tweets to come.

6:52 – Editing interviews with members of the Australian NGO delegation, preparing for today’s session which begins in three hours.

10:02 – Government delegation arrives, we are about to begin

10:03 – Session begins with CHAIR’s welcome. We will, this morning, be talking about the second half of the issues in the convention. Today, “I hope we will be more focussed”

10:05GASTAUD – Re: Juvenile Justice: “it attests to the two fundamental aspects raised yesterday … discrimination … and coordination.” Children may be treated differently in different states, and, thus, discriminated against. Listing the ages of criminal responsibilities in the states is useless to the commission, perhaps looking at case studies would enlighten us more.

0-10, 10-14, 14-18 are the different relevant age groups. Imagine a young offender killing his father, would this be tried in a court for minors, or a court for adults, or alternative dispute resolution, will incarceration or alternative punishment.

10:08KOTRANE – “perplexed and concerned” about, 7 years ago, we discussed the same issues, and recommended the same things … there has been no development related to our recommendations, especially regarding the criminal responsibility age of 10 (Australia’s explanation is re: education, expectation of communities, and ability to know right and wrong … something about ICT’s?). KOTRANE does not find that these explanations are sufficient in the light of this committee’s jurisprudence (12 as minimum age of responsibility, or higher was recommended in one of the committee’s General Comments). The statistics on the issue are insufficient.

10:12 – MADI – Re: Asylum seekers and refugee children. Welcome that children are now held in the “least restrictive” way, and for the least possible time. But even the Australian HR Commission is worried about the number of children in restrictive detention. Is it possible to revise the immigration act, to allow for a time limit, and for judicial review for asylum seekers? Regarding the asylum processes, what are the stats regarding the number of applicant, time in processing, and amount rejected.

10:13AIDOO – Welcomes the focus on early childhood development. Concern is that focus is on 4 year olds, but this is often too old for some issues. Are there plans for under 4 year old children in a holistic childhood package? This kind of practice has been shown (i.e. by World Bank research … early childhood focus has a 7x return on investment) to benefit children and families, especially in marginalised communities. UNESCO est.’d that more than 76% of Australian preschools are private … how does this effect prices, and therefore access for poorer families.

Re: quality of education: rich cultures, but lack of learning second languages, this is an opportunity that should be explored for academic benefits, and also for increasing understanding of tolerance. For the same reason, HR should be taught early, not merely for the Child’s knowledge, but to increase their tolerance. What is happening with community language schools? What about bilingual education for indigenous Australians? Welcomes the identification of gender disparity against boys, which may be in issue in Australia, especially for retention.  What is the success of the “Success for Boys” initiative? Where boys involved in the creation of the initiative?

10:20NORES – Support families through direct monetary transfers, how does this work? How do you ensure that the best interest of the child are taken into consideration in cases of repatriation of immigrants.

10:21HERCZOG – 18 weeks of minimum wage may not be enough for families with loans.  How did you decide on 18 weeks? How did you decide on the wage? Has there been consideration of the ILO’s consideration of the 6 months minimum time for breastfeeding.  How do you supplement incomes for families where the minimum wage isn’t enough?  How many fathers are taking this leave?  Very happy with the new early childhood education curriculum, but what about the lack of proper guarantee of quality in private early childhood education?

Re: overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in the special care system – what efforts have been made to improve assessment of placement, are indigenous families being considered first for indigenous children?  What after care, follow up services are provided?

Re: school violence – is family conferencing, and non-legal methods being used to prevent violence in schools?

10:27LEE – What of substance abuse, especially in aboriginal communities? Are the measures “band-aids” or do they go to the causes of the abuses?

10:28WOOLCOTT – Re: KOTRANE’s question on the impact of the labour government, “the new policies … speak for themselves”.

10:30MANNING – Re: PERES on plain packaging for cigarettes, implemented for all Australian cigarettes from August, for all cigarettes from December.  These are one of a number of efforts to reduce smoking in Australia, including increasing a 25% increase in tobacco excise duty, banning tobacco advertising on the internet, social marketing campaigns, etc.  On a state level, banned in public indoor areas, sometimes banned in outdoor public areas (e.g. stadiums).

The tobacco industry has combatted this, with legal challenges, WTO challenges by producer countries paid for by the WTO.  But the Australian government will continue to try and ban this.

10:34WOOLCOTT – Re: Aid as a % of GDP.  We are increasing our commitment to aid, and “are committed to 0.7% as our eventual target”.  He continues to delineate where the money is being spent, and the effects of this aid.

10:37POPE – Australian Delegation, Immigration – Re: Asylum – We agree that community detention isn’t instead of the expedient processing of asylum applications and the grant of permanent visas.  Children’s applications, especially unaccompanied, are expedited.  Children may be interviewed separately if required.  Re: conditions of children awaiting asylum clearance – provided housing, schooling and medical, the only restriction is that the adults do not have permission to work, but other activities, such as volunteering, are allowed.  For unaccompanied, live-in help is provided.

Re: Guardianship and the “perceived” conflict of interest of Minister as decider and guardian, the department has taken on a consultant, and is taking advice to remove this conflict.  Guardianship Act seeks to find them independent guardians for unaccompanied children.

10:43MAURAS – How do you define “rapidly” for the rapidity of processing for children that is promised.

10:44 CHAIR – with the minister as the guardian, we find that there is a conflict, and this is “a serious problem” – this is “a matter of priority”

10:45POPE – Re: Guardianship, the ministry for immigration does take into account children’s welfare, not just border control, so we don’t think the conflict is as dramatic as you insinuated.  We believe the new Commissioner will help to minimise the perceived conflict of interest “I would dispute that it is actual”.

10:48MAURAS – What of the length of the procedure?

10:48POPE – “I don’t have figures … on the exact length of time … it is longer than we wish it was”.  A difficult problem is undocumented persons.  For applicants, they would be held for less than 90 days before being placed in community detention.  Number of arrivals, similar to number of applications, 2000+ in 2009, 6000+ in 2010, 4000+ in 2011, in 2012 so far 3700+.  This figures are for arrival by boat (not by air).  For boat arrivals, visa applications are, in total 2009 there were 1131 visas, in 2010 there were 2010, 2011 4820, 2012 1570.

Re: disabled immigrants, they do arrive, but they are subject to a health check in Australia, “disability does not automatically result in a failure to meet the health requirement.  These checks are for budgetary and public health reasons.

10:54CORDONA – in 2010, a German doctor wasn’t allowed in because his child has Down’s Syndrome.  This isn’t contagious, and it seems to be a monetary consideration only.  This is discriminatory.

10:55POPE – “I don’t have details to discuss it with you”.

10:55WOOLCOTT – Re: Poverty in Australia

10:56McKENZIE – Australia provides family payments for families with children, especially to families most in need.  Through a social security system involving targeted, means tested payments and targeted tax.  There have also been improvements such as parental leave, payments for families with children in schools, and more.  Family Tax Benefit is paid to more than 2 million families, and includes special benefits for families with teenagers in high-school.  There is also an increase in the tax-free threshold to encourage young people into the workforce.

Re: support for the unemployed to get back into the workforce, with more than 5.5 billion dollars over 4 years to assist job seekers.  “Learn to Earn” also helps young people out of work to continue study to improve employability.

11:04WIJEMANNE – Re: Mental Health, there is evidence of excessive diagnosis and use of psychotropic medicine in young people.  Is this an issue you have come up with in the health sector? Is there research on this?  And what services are there for young people with emotional problems, especially for suicidal adolescents? How do these services reach the most vulnerable children, such as indigenous Australians and the homeless?

Re: Sex/reproductive health services – what child-friendly services do you have for this? What life-skills services do you have? How do they reach vulnerable children?

Re: education for vulnerable children – What informal education mechanisms do you have for children who drop out at an early age?  What are you doing about the immense rates of bullying in school (68% of girls in high-school?)?

11:10MANNING – Re: Corporal Punishment.  The Australian Government doesn’t endorse corporal punishment in schools, and it isn’t permitted in government schools, but it isn’t illegal in some private schools in some states, but there are few schools that practice this.  In foster and residential care, corporal punishment is banned, also in childcare, and juvenile justice facilities.  Within families, “it is important to note that the legal treatment of corporal punishment is contentious in Australia, and there is still the common law defence to assault of “reasonable chastisement””.  There have been state reviews on this law, but no federal reviews, and the state reviews have allowed the exception to continue, and the exception is narrow.

11:13MAURAS – While the explanation seems “reasonable”, on the other hand, violence against women and children in Australia is quite high (“one of the highest figure’s I’ve seen”).  These tend to be related, there may be a link between the allowance of the corporal punishment and violence against women and children.  What are the measures in the violence plan, or the plan on children, to address situations where women perpetrate or unable to stop the violence.

11:16MANNING – There are positive parenting programs, through the national frameworks, complemented by state and territory services and frameworks (is the question being addressed?).  It is contentious in Australia, but it is not something the government has considered. Early childhood development education programs for parents have a focus on minimising domestic violence.

11:21AYRES – Re: Disability, there is a varied system, state by state, about how children with disabilities are defined, and how they are treated.  Disabled children are “underrepresented in childcare services”.  Re: special schools, 4.4% of Australian schools are “special schools”, 8+% of students identify themselves as having a disability, thus, a significant proportion of children with disability are in mainstream schools.

The government has a significant reform agenda around disability, especially around disability standards within education. The government aims to improve “consistency and equity” in disabled education.

11:25McKENZIE – Re: disability generally, there is a reform agenda including inclusive/accessible communities, mentoring, rights protection, economic protection, learning, health, wellbeing and more.  There are also other programs, including “the better start for children with disability” which provides up to 12000 dollars for early intervention programs for disabled children.  Another big change is the fundamental reform of the insurance system, with advisory and expert groups helping to create this system.

11:28CARDONA – We already know that Australia is in favor of inclusion of disabled children, but some of the data doesn’t match what we know, I think, because there is not enough data.  8.8% of students have “disabilities”, is that really disability, or “special education needs”: these are different.  We need more data on this.  The data doesn’t match what we have heard from other sources.

11:31AYRES – trying to defend Australia’s data, “it is definitely improving”, especially with regards to disaggregation.  We also have a national policy towards integration rather than “special” education.  The Government acknowledges that data needs to be improved, but steps are being taken to improve this.

11:34CHAIR – Another problem with disability is the issue of forced sterilisation, “and you promised us an answer on that”.

11:35WOOLCOTT – Our aid program takes disability into consideration, with integration as a goal.

11:35MANNING – Re: sterilisation, the government’s view is that it should only be done “as a matter of last result”.  Under law, it can be done only in an emergency, as a byproduct of surgery, or with the permission of a court.  The data suggests that a number of sterilisations are low, a few requests a year.

11:38CHAIR – a 10 minute break.  After this, 15 minutes on health, education and juvenile justice.  At 12:35 we will ask questions for the afternoon’s session.

11:53CHAIR – Break’s over

11:53WOOLCOTT – Re: Health, mental health and suicide.

11:54AYRES – Mental health is being taken into account by the new curriculum, and by early detection through the school system.  We do have frameworks for children between the ages of 0-3, not just for the year before school.  Further, we do have a comprehensive response and prevention system for extreme emptional problems in Australia.

11:58McKENZIE – Re: Mental health –  The states are helping the federal government with a 10 year plan on mental health, as well as a report card.  These developments include 3 year old emotional health checks,

12:01DAVY – Re: Breastfeeding – there is a strong drive towards breastfeeding, which we can can see by the high take-up rate.

12:02AYRES – Re: STI’s – There are bad statistics, but there are new measures being implemented, including education and availability of health, especially reproductive health services.

12:03CHAIR – What about drug use?

12:05McKENZIE – There are measures, “but I am not sure we can provide more details about this”.

12:06WOOLCOTT – Education is also being used to prevent drug use, and a federal campaign has been in place since 2001.

12:07AYRES – Re: Education – all education, including early childhood education, is now under the same federal ministry, as in line with OECD recommendations on the matter.  There were questions on the focus on the year before school: whilst there is a reform towards access to preschool in the year before school (900m on this program) but there is more than 20 billion a year on all preschool, thus, the focus isn’t too undue.  There is a focus to increase attendance of preschool, especially for communities at risk.

12:13CHAIR – There has been discussion of bullying, are there conflict resolution mechanisms to reconcile peers, are there concrete proposals to remedy bullying?

12:14AYRES – There are many policies, including a “national day of action against bullying” and the use of school counsellors to mitigate bullying early.

12:16HERCZOG – there are symptoms of bullying, but there are also root causes, are these being tackled? What is happening to the offenders, since they are often troubled kids?

12:17AYRES – I haven’t seen data that shows a relationship between corporal punishment and bullying (but the question was aimed at whether or not corporal punishment was being used to punish bullying?).  Bullying can be indicative of problems in the bully, but our educational professionals have been trained in dealing with this.

12:19CHAIR – Let us shift to juvenile justice – minimum age, intermediary ages and more still have to be discussed.

12:20MANNING – Note: although between 10-14 there is criminal liability, there is still the rebuttable presumption of doli incapax – the prosecutor must show that the child knew the gravity of their actions.  What happens to children at various stages of the criminal process? Juvenile offenders are dealt with in Children’s Courts, although jurisdictions see criminal prosecution and incarceration as measures of last resort.  Further, even if guilt is found, incarceration is unlikely because there is a preference towards alternative measures of rehabilitation.

12:25McKENZIE – note that most children in the judicial system get there because of child protection, and the government’s process for developing a judicial system for the protection of children has been created with consultation of NGOs and other actors.  Further, this consultation has been used for the development of out of home care, as well as the transition from out of home care to independence.

12:26CHAIR – remaining questions in juvenile justice: bad conditions in specific detention centers, and to detention of juveniles alongside adults.

12:29MANNING – Children are tried separately, and they are held (at least until the age of 17) in juvenile detention facilities.  They may be transferred to adult prisons, but they are held separately within those.  Regarding to conditions in detention – we are aware of media reports that highlight issues of bad conditions, and the federal government has changed the system in response to that.  In the ACT, this change was done pursuant to the territory’s Human Rights’s act.

12:31CHAIR – last question on juvenile justice: if a child aged 13 was responsible for a serious crime, can he be deprived of liberty?

12:32 – MANNING – if the child rebuts doli incapax, then he may be deprived of their liberty.

12:32CHAIR – we close the series of questions on the CRC and move to the OP’s.

13:34GURÁN – Rapporteur on the first OP – there has been 5 years since the ratification of the OP, and this is the first review of this OP in the committee.  There are the following areas of concern:

  • dissemination and training of information of Human Rights information – does CRoC education include education on the Optional Protocols?
  • data – there is a lack of comparative data on the OP at a federal level, it is difficult to compare state data.  Is the government working towards a unified system?
  • Regarding: National action plan to eradicate trafficking in persons – it is a general plan, but does it take into account the special requirements of children?
  • Disparity between states and regions – Can you explain the situation where the legislation covering the OP is different.  Child prostitution is criminalised at various ages in various states (16 in Victoria, 17 in Tasmania, etc.), does this appropriately treat the children as victims, or does it treat them as criminals? Australia considers sale of children as slavery or trafficking, but is this enough? It doesn’t, for example, cover the sale of organs.
  • What about services offered to victims of these crimes.  In NT, sexual abuse and child prostitution seems to be widespread in indigenous communities, what is being done about this?  What about services for victims in remote areas?  Is there not a lack of counselling services in those areas?  Is there a standard, or plan for access for remote areas? Is there a help line for victims of child prostitution?
  • Regarding sex tourism, the committee appreciates the Government’s efforts and the legislation in the area.  What is the strategy, moving forward, to protect children from sex tourism, especially for extraterritorial legislation?

12:42 – KOTRANE – Regarding age of consent, the age is 16, and this is the age of consent in many countries.  But, given that the age of 16 is the age of consent, are they able to work in prostitution and pornography, are they protected from this?   Regarding sale of children, there is not enough information.  In your information, illegal adoption and forced work, are they considered the sale of a child?  This is not clear.  There appears not to be a specific legislation on sale of children, and on simulated and audio child pornography.  Also, what about extradition and extraterritorial legislation?  I was pleased to learn of the 2006 decision, in light of the OP, of a rule allowing extradition for sale of children even if there is no extradition treaty, this is an exceptional piece of legislation and should be applauded.

12:48KOOMPRAPHANT – What protections are there for special needs groups?  What measures shall be taken to reintegrate children who run away from home, and who are victims, back into the family?

12:49MADI – The rapporteur mentioned sex tourism, and I would like to join him in applauding the new, comprehensive legislation on illegalising sex tourism.  Australia is now a most successful country in terms of extraterritorial legislation. Those convicted of offenses abroad, do these judgments include compensation to victims, who may be overseas?

12:51WIJEMANNE – Re: “online grooming”, what actions are being taken to prevent children from being taken advantage of online?  Most child pornography in Australia is imported, is there action to prevent importation?  Also, we would like to applaud Australia’s extraterritorial legislation on sex-tourism, what steps are being taken further?

12:53SANDBERG – You do a lot in international coordination, are you going to maintain or extend this?  In your development/aid program, do you have requirements that the recipient country isn’t a party to sale of children and other breaches?

12:54MAURAS – Girl children as young as 5 have had STI’s in native communities, what measures are being taken to avoid harmful sexual assault issues in indigenous children?

12:55POLLAR – rapporteur on second OP (OPAC) – The presence of Australia’s general here shows their commitment to the OPAC.  Complement the change of the criminal code to bring in line with OPAC.  But is the use of soldiers under 18, and unlawful recruitment illegal, and is this derogated from in war-time?  Australia’s OPAC declaration says that all recruits are told of all of their duties, but our data is otherwise: please discuss the recruitment and enlistment process, as well as the role of parental and informed consent.

The field manual of the Australian Army states that “all feasible” measures should be used to prevent “direct participation” in armed conflict.  Were children not used in the East Timor conflicts? What are “all feasible” measures, and how do you define “direct participation”? What of conscription of under 18’s in times of war in Australia?

13:00CHAIR – End of the session, all further questions from OPAC will be presented after the break.

Following is a quick summary about issues which I thought were most interesting in the first session on Australia’s review before the CRC, for more detail, you can check out my live-blog of the first session.

The CHAIR of the Committee on the Rights of the Child reflected on the fact that quite a lot of time was spent in the first session on preliminary, or introductory issues, especially the significance of a Federal System of Government on the ability of the Government to implement nation-wide child rights protection policies.  Whilst many of us in Australia would be familiar with this system, it was, obviously, very important to explain to the committee members, who made sure to note that they weren’t allowing the Australian Delegation to use this as an “excuse”, but, merely taking it into consideration in their recommendation.

Whilst the committee discussed  many issues, they did bring up a few areas of questioning which I found extremely interesting, and quite progressive. Specifically, the Australian Government‘s complicity in child rights abuses by Australian Companies acting abroad with the help of Australian Government export credit agencies (a negative glance was cast on the Mining and Fisheries industries as grave offenders).  Further, the Committee’s questioning on the Government’s implementation of Anti-Terrorist legislation, and whether or not the privacy implications (alleged offenders may be disclosed to the public before trial, apparently) would affect children (i.e. would children, who are charged under this act, have their identities publicly released before trial?).

Australia’s Ambassador WOOLCOTT, and the committee, both signalled that issues relating to Indigenous Australians, and “the gap” are continuing to be a problem.  Some of the issues regarding first Australians were discussed yesterday (namely, steps taken to ensure non-discrimination, a Pillar of the Convention on the Rights of the Child enshrined in Article 2 of the Convention), but there are more issues to be discussed today, such as access to Education and Health within these marginalised communities.  Today, then, we can hope for some more cutting questions, and, hopefully, some good answers by the government, on this issue.

One more topic which was recurrent was the participation of Australian Children in a Human and Child’s Rights discourse.  The committee stressed the importance of educating young children of their rights, and of allowing them to participate in the creation of policies that affect them.

Further, the Committee was generally pleased with Australia’s creation of an independent review body for child’s rights, the Children’s Commissioner.  To ensure that the commissioner fulfilled the requirements of their previous recommendations, they analysed the role from a Paris Standards perspective, and Ambassador WOOLCOTT repeatedly reassured them that the role would be sufficiently independent.

Finally, one more issue that I found  interesting was the discussion of the “Great Firewall of Australia” and the delicate balancing act it poses: it must balance the rights of children to access information with their right to protection from “cyberbullying” and other online threats.  Committee Member MAURAS PERES seemed to insinuate that the firewall wasn’t the best solution and that there were other solutions that provide protection without as drastically limiting access to information.  I agree with Ms MAURAS PERES’s opinion.

Hopefully, Day 2 will bring some more answers, as the review of the second half of the CRC, and the review of the Optional Protocols gets under way (surprisingly, we expect to see some flack on Australia’s use of “cadets”, with regards to the Second Optional Protocol).

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!  Follow @Janchildrights and @Oatsandsugar for tweets to come.

UPDATE – this session is now closed, tune in tomorrow for more!

18:01CHAIR – It is passed 6pm, so I have to adjurn, even though there are more than 6 committee members with questions, which, I guess, will be asked tomorrow.

17:48SANDBERG – Committee Member – Programs to deal with abuse and neglect are impressive, but are children being consulted in setting up these policies?  Re: children in the justice system, are there special measures for indigenous children, or non-legal mechanisms for dispute resolution, are they affective?  Information states that “crisis stage” rather than preventative measures are being focussed on.

17:47KOOMPRAPHANT – Committee Member – Australia has quite a good child protection system, but why is child abuse and sexual abuse increasing?  What is being done to prevent this? What liability is there for abusive parents? What therapy is being offered to victims?

17:49CARDONNE – Comittee Member – Re: Children with disabilities – data collection is insufficiently collected, and the proposed data collection policy is insufficient, because it doesn’t create desegregated data.  In 2005, the Committee recommended the stopping of forced sterilisation for non-therapeutic reasons.  Australia defended it because of therapeutic reasons, but this could be an exception to the ban.  Is there data on sterilisation? Unwanted pregnancy is not weighed appropriately against the physical integrity of the child. Forced sterilisation is not an appropriate measure for birth control.  Does the government still reject the recommendation to ban forced sterilisation.  Also, what measures are there on inclusive education v. special education for disabled children?  How does the juvenile justice system allow for disabled children?  You said you were concerned, but what are you doing about it?

17:45LEE – Re: mandatory detention of immigrant children – see roundtable – alternative detention should not be an alternative to release.  Re: legal guardianship – currently, Minister of immigration determines refugee status, but he is also the legal guardian, how do you explain this conflict of interest.  Re: Malaysia solution – conditions in Malaysia are not of high enough standard, applauds HC decision that it was unlawful – is the Federal government still considering repatriation as a solution.  Re: indigenous, has CoAG signed the Indigenous Education Action Plan, and what of the requirement of the first language being English, rather than their first languages?

17:40MAURAS – Re: Standards of living (one of the articles in the convention).  Despite prosperity, 12% of youths live in poverty. What is done to prevent this, especially for children and mothers in families (e.g. 18 months of paid parental leave)?  Homelessness, more than it should be considering your wealth: 34 000 youth homeless – what measures are being taken to prevent homelessness? Re: consumption of “toxic substances” – what progress is there in “simple packaging” – a forward move, but being combatted, what does Australia think about the IP rights argument of the Tobacco Industry?

17:32WIJEMANNE – Re: Family Environment and Alternative Care – an increase in children in “out of home care” – and reports of abuse in alternative care, and bad transition after they leave alternative care.  Are there preventative programs to that children don’t go into institutions? Are the institutions properly trained for care and transition?

Re: Adoptions, not too much data, but ombudsmen from Victoria showed that there was some abuse.  Are there systems in place to monitor this? Re: Basic health and welfare and children with disabilities, what institutions and support systems are there? Is there appropriate access to reproductive health services (answer with reflection to forced sterilisation for disabled persons)?

Re: breastfeeding – negative data in Australia, low “exclusive breastfeeding” and this is going down.  The initiation rate is high, but the continuation is low.  Perhaps this is because of inappropriate marketing of baby formula?

Re: mental health: for children and young people, there are problems (especially for access to services and amount of time before services are provided), and there are increases in youth suicides.

Re: HIV and Reproductive Health – a marked increase in STIs, what access do young people have to services and education?  What programs are there to prevent teenage pregnancies?

17:31CHAIR – We’re stopping answers now, time for the second round of questions for tomorrow.  We did spend time on preliminaries (data, constitutional law, etc.) , but they were important in framing the discussion.

17:28WOOLCOTT – Re: Data, it is being collected now, especially in justice and education, although data on disability is still weak.

17:25MAURAS – Let me insist on this matter – on the commonwealth level, you have many policies trying to rectify the separation of indigenous Australians, and “the gap”. There are statistics on “the gap” being collected, but the data collection is insufficient – “ethnic” variably isn’t used in statistics, how can you meet your commitment to your policies if your data gathering system isn’t providing nuanced enough data?  Re: National Council of Indigenous Australians, who chooses the members? What effect can they have on closing the gap?

17:23WOOLCOTT – CoAG has the final say on coordination of children’s rights issue.  At the same time, within the federal system, the PM and the Cabinet have responsibility for coordination of “whole of government” policies.  Further, the minister for indigenous affairs is responsible for cross-portfolio indigenous issues.

17:22 – LEE – on the issue on discrimination against indigenous australian, there are low indicators for indigenous communities, perhaps because of discrimination in access to health and other things.  E.g. food prices – these act as discriminatory practices.

17:19AIRES – The curriculum body has independant repsonsibility to create the curriculum.  HR is a major focus of the Australian curriculum, but how it is integrated is controlled by the independent body.

17:18AIDOO – Re: HR education, does the new curriculum see HR as a cross-subject educational priority? “If it has been done, then we rest our case”

17:13MANNING – Steps have been taken to educate government service providers on non-discrimination and on education on rights to marginalised populations.  Discussion of grassroots education on rights programs (e.g. via hiphop, sports, etc.).  Also seeking to educate members of the government, especially on CRoC requirements.  New Australian Curriculum to be put out for consultation by the end of the year – with a focus on non-discrimination.

17:11Australian Delegate – AHCSIAAustralian Government is looking at constitutional recognition of First Peoples, and reconciliation.  There is also, now a “national congress” with equal gender representation of first peoples.  Federal Government has set targets on closing the life expectancy gab by 2031, halving child mortality gap by 2013, ensuring early childhood education access for indigenous student 2013, halving gap in employment outcomes and year 12 matriculation.

17:09Australian delegate – Education – New curriculum tries to further involve indigenous history and culture.

17:08WOOLCOTT – we will now talk about non-discrimination in education and health

17:07WIJEMANNE – How to bring Indigenous Australians into the “main stream”

17:06NORES – committee member – we should discuss non-discrimination, not separation: indigenous Australians should have the same rights as Australian’s living on the coast.

17:05WOOLCOTT – Indigenous issues are related with health and the “so called alleged discrimination”.

17:04CHAIR – Health and education are to be discussed late, discrimination against indigenous Australians are what are to be discussed today.

17:04WOOLCOTT – Re: “closing the gap”, indegenous health and education

17:02MANNINGTreaties aren’t self executing, they must be implemented via legislation.  Federal law does prevail, but the treaty, thus, only prevails over state legislation if legislated by the federal parliament. Re: Child’s Rights Commissioner reports, they will be publicly presented, independantly, without any government supervision.

17:01KOTRANE – If there is a conflict between laws, does the convention have primacy over laws of the state?

16:55MANNING – Commissioner has a 3.5m dollar (over 4 years) for establishment of the role of the Child’s Rights Commission.  It will be an independent body under the rules of the Paris Principles. Would be part of the national HR Commission, with access to that budget: free to chose their own staff and fully independent.  Re: Chair’s question, what is a piece of legislation fails the statement of compatibility? It isn’t void immediately, but it signals this to parliament, who would (using a committee) inquire into it.  Parliament will take it into account when voting.  What can the federal government do if a state fails to meet HR treaties Asutralia has signed? Use the External Affairs Power (s51 xxiv?) to implement treaties.

16:53WOOLCOTT – Re: Why we don’t have a HR charter? Conclusion of the inquiry, no, the conclusion of the government after reading the report, was to incorporate HR into legislation and policy, rather than in a charter.  Common Law system also manages HR, but in a different way.  In ratifying treaties, it ensures that “all its laws” are in conformity with that convention.  Australia has engaged with the Paris Principles, and a long commitment to hte independence of HR commissions, you are right, they are not part of the executive and they have an independent budget, they are “strongly and fiercely independent”.  The Child’s Rights Commission will be an advocate for policy coordination, not part of it.

16:52GASTAUD – What can the federal government do to ensure that the state conform with the CRoC?

16:51KOTRANE – Australia has a constitution, but it doesn’t have a charter of rights on a federal level.  Only two states and the ACT have charters, but there is not Child Rights in these charters. As such, how is the role of the convention reflected in the states?

16:39CHAIR – Re: Federal System, how do you ensure access to all rights for all children fairly and without discrimination – with a system like this, there is an acute risk of having discrimination because of the variety of legislative bodies.

16:46 – MORAS – Don’t confuse two things: role of independent ombudsmen and coordination (i.e. the commissioner) … should be autonomous of the executive, it should have advocacy and monitoring roles.  This is not to supplement the executive’s function.  If it complements the coordination powers of the executive, “then I will be very worried” and it wouldn’t fulfil the role of an independent observer.  Regarding coordination, we aren’t asking for a single ministry, but the coordination ability of the country to deal with a convention that is extremely broad.

16:42 – MANNING – Australian Delegation, AG‘s Office: Reiterates complexity and working of our federal system.  However, there is also a federal focus on Child’s Rights.  Every piece of legislation now needs a “compatibility check” against all major Human Rights treaties which Australia is a party to.  Re: Establishment of the National Children’s Commissioner – Questions on the model: dodged the question on the Paris standards and talks of the aims of the children’s commissioner and how he will work with state Children’s Commissioners.

16:41MORAS – Committee Member: Children’s framework refers only to a part of child rights, “special protection” – what of the rest of the convention?

16:38McKENZIE – Australian Delegation: Many federal ministers deal with Child’s Rights, and there are often state ministers with a direct Child Rights responsibility.  CoAG helps to smooth this coordination, especially the “standing committees” on specific issues, many of which deal with Child’s Rights.  Many other fora, including the “Children and Family Roundtable” for coördination.

16:38WOOLCOTT – Re: Coördination: 9 gov’ts and a complex constitution to deal with, making coördination complex.

16:37WOOLCOTT – The experts from the Australian delegation will answer the UN questions.  Tomorrow, Export Credit agency and Mining issues raised by Ms Perez will be adressed, rest will be adressed now.

16:35CHAIR – And we’re back.  Australia will now reply to committee questions.

16:05CHAIRAnti-terrorist laws, do they apply to children? How do they affect children?  End of First Round of questions, time for a break for Australia to prepare responses.

16:03LEE – Committee member – Re: Right to Privacy.  In WA and NT, photos of young offenders can be publicised, will this be amended? LRC recommendation on protection of privacy for children, has it been implemented, or will it be?  Young people don’t want to go to doctors because of confidentiality breaches (e.g. for sexual health), where parents have been told.

16:01GASTAUD – committee member – Focus on coördination between ministries in the federal government, and between states. “If a Child has not been heard, would it be a breach of Judicial procedure in a case involving them?

15:56AIDOO – committee member – What dissemination and education on child’s rights are being made? How are they going to improve? Commend Attorney General and HR Committee websites for information.  Australian, knowledgeable 12 year old, “CRC is a fantastic document … but it is just that … most people do not know about it … it isn’t taught in schools“.  So, what is being done about that? “What concrete measures are you taking … to ensure the CRC are better known by children, communities and professionals? Have current education methods been evaluated?” Are there specific education programs for disadvantaged children?

15:53 VARMAH – Vice-Chaiperson – Re: birth registration process in Aboriginal Communities.  The procedures, including “fee”, are complex, and are often not followed through in Indigenous Communities.  Without this, there is no “legal personality”, ability to apply for a passport or drivers licence, tax file number, etc. [13% of Aboriginal Children aren’t registered, 2.5% of all Australians unregistered].  What information is being collected on this? How can Australia make this registration free, and told of?  Also, same sex, donor and children in Immigration Detention: how are birth registration issues being adressed in these areas?

15:50HERCZOG – committee member – No separate interviews for children in immigration. Participation of Children (Australian Youth Forum), but not enough, because they are only for mature adolescents, not for all children, who are complaining of being left out.

15:47MADI – committee member – One of the “most serious issue in our committee” is corporal punishment.  Australia should raise the bar, and work towards banning corporal punishment.  There is no legislation against this? “We are not dealing with a developing country?” … Australia’s efforts “are not enough!”.

15:46 – KOTRANE – 0.7% GDP as aid as goal, rather than 0.5%.

15:41Mr KOTRANE – committee member – Thanks to Australia for the exhaustive responses to UN issues raised.  Overall, Australia is doing well, and it respects the rights of the child.  We thank Australia for its National Apology.  How did voting in the Labour Government affect Rights of the Child in Australia? Concerning ratification, Convention on … Migrant Workers: is progress being made for this ratification?  UNESCO on non-discrimination in education, is progress being made towards ratification? ILO 138, 169 (Minimum Age, Indigenous Workers), Reservation on 37(c,b) – is ratification going to happen, is the reservation going to be withdrawn (we believe, in this committee, that the government reasons for the reservation are insufficient)? [UPDATE, UNESCO convention has already been ratified].

15:38Ms Hiranthi WIJEMANNE –  Second Rapporteur – Discussing Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander children’s rights, health and wellbeing.  Also, children homelessness.  Also, respect for views of the child – not enough coöperation with children in making decisions.  Lacking birth registration in marginalised communities (registration is required in the CRC).  Corporal punishment still occurs in homes, as “reasonable chastisement”.

15:37 – Mauras Peres: Access to information – criticising the “Great Firewall of Australia“, and what this could do to prevent Australian bullying.

15:36 – Mauras Peres: Calling into question Australian grants to Australian companies acting abroad – there should be a child rights (and human rights) check for these grants.

15:30Mauras Peres: Calling into question the acts of Australian mining companies abroad (and fisheries).  Understands that there are industry standars, but are these standards criminally enforceable in Australia – for example, for breaches of Rights of the Child abroad by Australian Companies?

15:28 – Mauras Peres:  Independent monitoring – Child’s Rights Commissioner, “we are delighted about”.  But are the fundamental criteria of the Paris Principles being met? 1. Is the commissioner with an independent budget? 2. Is he specialised in Child Rights? 3. Does it cover the whole of Australia?

15:26 – Mauras Peres: National frameworks, we understand, aren’t law, but advise state governments.  “Do you have a holistic, comprehensive national vision for the implementation of the CRC?”.  “Despite the federal systems, there are issues which must be dealt with federally”

15:22Mauras Peres: Committee member, Australian First Rapporteur.  Understands challenges of the federal government system, but understands that the Australian Council of Governments minimises the fragmentation caused by this. National Frameworks put in place have, also, helped with this.  But dialogue today is more about what there is, still, to be done.  As a highly developed country, the committee seeks to help Australia improve further.

15:21 – Back to Chairperson, opening the floor.

15:19 – Ambassador Wolcott: Issues – Indigenous children in juvenile justice system; children in out of home care.  Programs to prevent drug use and suicide have been put in place.

15:17 – Ambassador Wolcott: Positive changes cont’d. … “Australia takes seriously the responsibility to prevent exploitation of children“; positive changes to  immigration issues, especially for unaccompanied minors – a shift to community based immigration processing.

15:11Ambassador Woolcott: Positive changes – National Children’s Commissioner, as recommended by the committee; National paid parental leave scheme, especially for mothers of national minimum wage during maternity leave; Australian human rights framework, with an action plan in development to nationalise Child Rights; National Framework for Protecting Australian Children, New school/preschool curriculums; ABS, 94% of most vulnerable children are now enrolled in preschool (an increase); Australian Early Development Index for young children recorded every 3 years; NSW programs to reduce homelessness for children, especially aboriginal Australians; reform to disability insurance and disability policy …

15:09 – Explaining the federal system to the Committee, perhaps to show that the states, as well as the federal government have responsibility for Child’s Rights, not the federal government alone.  Discussing the NGO participation and reports – most children have a good standard of living, but there are issues, especially in indigenous and other areas.

15:08“Australia strongly supports engagement with the UN treaty committee framework … to improve conditions for children”Peter WOOLCOTT.

15:06Australian Head of Delegation – Ambassador Peter WOOLCOTT.   Presented report from 2008, and response to issues put forth by the UN.  Introducing Australian delegation.

15:03Chairperson’s address [Chairperson Zermatten], agenda for the afternoon: first to hear from the Australian Head of Delegation, then the two Australian Rapporteurs, then a break.

14:45 – Committee private meeting just began, observers asked to leave the room.

14:30 – Just got briefed by the NGO liaison on the way the committee meeting will run.

The committee room

13:55 – Settling in to the meeting room, sitting on the end, by a Danish NGO delegate who has an interest in Australia’s treatment of mental health.

13:30 – A Guinness World Record for the UN Declaration of Human Rights being the most translated document in the world

13:19 – Finally got my passport, heading to Palais Wilson for the NGO meeting. A bit less than two hours to go until the review starts.

13:00 – Waiting to pick up my passport

11:00 – Realise I forgot my passport at my apartment, a long schlep about the town to find it (missed the Commission’s review of Vietnam)

9:45  – Met with the Australian delegation at Australia’s permanent mission to the UN, with the ambassador and representatives from the Attorney General’s office, Immigration, Education, and more in attendance.

We spent the morning in a (I know, it is cliché) creperie not too far from the lake, where I had the most delicious chèvre and miel (goats cheese and honey) crepe, and a freshly squeezed juice which really helped all of the preparation work go down smoothly.

At first, we worked on our own things, I was editing photos, Jan was updating her social media and the NGO guys were planning what they wanted to do the next day, but then we focussed in on something, all together.

One of the appendices to the Listen to Children Report, “Appendix 1: Proposed recommendations for the Concluding Observations” lets the committee know what the NGO community thinks would be ideal recommendations to hand down to the Australian delegation. We spent the late morning and the early afternoon prioritising and summarising the more than 100 proposals into a package more easily digestible by the committee.

I chopped and diced the report (using iA Writer, of course) and gave the guys the shortlist, and they spent a while debating which were the most important, and how best to present them. In that time, I worked with Jan on a bit of publicity, scouring the internets for opportunities.

After a few hours, Jan and I left back to the hotel, to begin shooting a few little clips for the blog. We spent way to long on Jan’s interview, which led to hilarious outtakes (which I’ll edit up as soon as I can) but not too much usable material, probably because we began to think too much.

James and Frank’s interviews went splendidly, and I’ll chop ‘em up and post them as soon as I can!

Waking up slow after a good night’s sleep fuelled by being exhausted is one of the things that makes me smile. Feeling refreshed, waking up with the sun shining and time on the clock. Having time to read up for the day, to have a slow breakfast (thanks so much Sandra for the delicious cereal cookies!) and a morning walk, what more could you want?

Catching the tram, looking at beautiful sunny Geneva passing me by, with music in my ears, a wonderful start to the day. We were meeting in the city at 10, but because I arrived a little early, I had the time to edit a few photos, and to write a few words. Totally ready for the day.

We arrived one by one, and we set out an agenda for the day: first we were to introduce ourselves, our interest and our best best-case scenario outcomes for the review; second, we would talk out schedules and logistics; third, we were to coördinate our media engagement; and, finally, and perhaps most importantly, we would extract from the Government report, the Listen to Children Report and the Committee’s list of questions central points for engagement with the committee.

Jan and James brainstorming

The morning went by in a flash, all the planning, all the talk of what each person represented, and what they were hoping to contribute, and hoping to receive. It was especially interesting to hear the different perspectives and focuses of the different organisations within the taskforce.

A quick lunch by the lake with Janani (another thing to be happy about!) and we were on to the bulk of the discussion: the policy issues and hopes for the Committee’s recommendations to the Australian government. Issues ranging from problems facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples to homeless children in Australia, immigration and even the reception of child soldiers within Australia were brought up. Each issue was placed under a topic that the Committee was to bring up, so that Committee members could be informed on each issue in the order it would be discussed.

Reading up

Some of the conversations broached issues that were extremely difficult to hear, and problems that I couldn’t see a way out of: problems entrenched within our system that would take significant reform to address. I’ll post about these issues as they are brought up by the committee.

  • On Monday the Fourth, General Measures of Implementation; Definition of the Child; General Principles and Civil Rights and Freedoms.
  • On Tuesday, in the morning session, we should be covering Family Environment and Alternative Care; Basic Health and Welfare; Education, Leisure and Cultural Activities and Special Protection Measures.
  • In the afternoon session, the Optional Protocols (on Sale of Children and Child Soldiers) will be discussed.
  • We estimate that the UNCRC’s recommendations to the Australian Government will be released on the 16th.

After joining the Taskforce crew for a spot of dinner (Lebanese food, with really nice Hummus), I headed off to meet Sandra and go to a BBQ. Of course, I caught the wrong one — actually, the right one, but the wrong way — and I ended up in France.

More pictures available on my Flickr, and make sure to check out and

On last night’s bus ride from Jaffna, I met a very interesting person, who sat next to me, and without asking, paid for my fare. He was a young hardware salesperson and engineer who was just married in Vavuniya. His English was superb, and he was really kind.

Sadly, in the war, his brother went missing. He paid an extortionate amount to the LTTE to smuggle him out on a boat, headed for Australia. The conditions on the boat were horrid, cramped hungry and sickening. His boat was picked up off the coast of Indonesia by the Indonesian Navy. Before his, or any of the other people on the boat, could have their refugee status application analysed (in Australia, seemingly at the discretion of the minister), since they were in international waters, they were “escorted” back to Sri Lanka.

Back to the war zone where his brother had disappeared.
Back to the country tens of thousands of civilians were to die in the closing months of the war.

He is lucky to have survived. I am lucky that he treated me so nicely as a stranger in his country, considering the pains and consequences he went through to try to visit my country.


Arriving at Jaffna, I was in awe at the development that had occurred since last time I was here. The famous Jaffna teaching hospital was being refurbished, Nallur Kovil had a new pyramid entrance built and shopping centres more than 4 stories high seemed to be popping up everywhere. The Jaffna charm was still there, though, with the plethora of ’50’s cars still lining the roads.

I checked into a spartan, but cheap, serviceable and friendly “Jaffna Lodge” (about 9 AUD a night, a great bathroom/shower, a bed that was literally made from corrugated cardboard, but was surprisingly comfortable, and lovely staff) and was off to sleep .

The next morning, after the requisite hour of phone conversation with some idiot Southern USA girl about trying to cancel my master-card (when I told her I was in Sri Lanka, she seemed to forget that I knew English, and began speaking slowly and loudly), I was off to enjoy my favourite places in Jaffna on my day off.

Nallur Kovil

A stroll (a bit longer than usual, getting lost a few times on the way) and I was at the most grand temple in Jaffna, the Nallur Kovil, dedicated (I think, though I may be wrong) to the 5 faced god Murugan – patron god of the Tamil people.

The new pyramid which had only been scaffolding last time I came was now complete, standing tall (100 ft!) and golden above the red and white candy-striped walls of the temple. Walking into the sandy courtyard outside the temple, I take of my shoes and set them aside. I smash a coconut (as do the others) as an offering on a darkened stone in front of the temple entrance and i take my last photo — inside the temple, photos aren’t allowed.

As I walk into the temple, like all the other men, I take my shirt off. I hear the Vedic chants of the Brahmin (the priestly caste) Ayer’s (priests) coming from the altar of the temple, the bells ringing, the horn blowing. Walking around the temple, I look at the murals: epic depictions of the feats of Murugan and the other gods. The roof is lined with tiny curtains that bellow with the wind and make it seem like the building is alive, and, indeed, breathing.

I walk through the temple, stopping in front of each god’s shrine, walking around the shrines with the other visitors to the temple. I tie a nominal coin donation to the tree in the courtyard, already mummified with colourful donations.

The ceremonial pond, surrounded by staircases going down to the water, is now full, bloated in the wet-season. When I came here in July, I could see right down the depths of this well, now, the water came up to greet me.

I make my way back to the central altar, because I hear a Puja starting. Bells. Horns. Tambourines. Chanting. Offerings from the masses placed in front of the gods via the Brahmins of the temple. The Brahmins were dressed in white fringed sarongs, with their ceremonial 4 stranded string lying casually over their shoulder and beaded prayer necklaces hanging off their necks. Each one had long hair (of varying degrees of whiteness), an intense look in their eyes and purposefulness and efficiency in their movements. A complex three shade Pottu adorned their forehead.

After the first round of prayer, the devotees offer slips paper (marked 100 – they probably cost a dollar each) to a Brahmin, who utters a prayer in each of their names and places the offerings in front of a shrine to the right of the main altar. I stay back, not wanting to offend anyone with my ignorance.

A younger Brahmin calls me forward sees my confusion and says “name”.
I reply “Yohanan” — what the locals call me and what I think is easiest for them to say.
The Ayer responds with “Yohanan” followed by some chanting: brief, but purposeful chanting.

He offers me the plate of ash. Again, seeing my confusion, he dips his finger in the turmeric paste (or Saffron? The yellow coloured paste) and marks my head with a Pottu. He then pinches some ash between his fingers and puts a line above the Pottu he had drawn.

Me witha Pottu at Nallur Kovil

Me witha Pottu at Nallur Kovil

I pace my hands in front of my (like the other devotees) and step away, but he calls me forward again. He takes the candelabra that he had next to him, calls together the other Ayers and parades around one of the idols. After, he brings the candelabra to me, and takes my hands in his, putting them over the fire to feel the warmth. The other devotees rush forth to put their hands, too, over the fire.

I say “Rommah Naandri” (many thanks) and I step back, my hands again clasped in front of me.

I take a seat and listen the rest of the chants and songs, and lose track of time sitting in the sand in the temple that was breathing around me.

Jaffna Town

As much as the temple is a ritual, so is the post-temple requirement for all adults to take their children to the famous Rio Ice-Cream Parlour. A happy, busy place surrounded by empty pretenders. A decent ice-cream too! Not really that delicious, but the atmosphere and presentation is remarkable!

After my quick ice-cream and a stroll through the markets, I head back to the “hotel” to read about what had just happened in Nallur Kovil, and found myself on a multi-hour Hindu Mythology Binge. After hearing these amazing stories, I totally wanted to read some of the primary sources, especially the Ramayana, who’s story seemed fascinating. Then, I read that these epic stories are literally 10-20 volumes long. Maybe I should save it for an especially cold winter’s day then.

In the evening, I, again go for a walk, this time on the seedy side of Jaffna on the way to the lagoon. Where the main street is filled with bright lights, flashy old cars in ridiculous colours and scaffolding towering high into the night, the side streets still bear the scars of war. Half-buildings that are now squats. Roofless buildings turned into concrete lace by gunfire and shelling. Children playing on the sides of the street. Teens and older men sitting drunk on sandbanks on the side of the road.

I make it to the beach, but where I was expecting a promenade, there was a navy base, with a 18 year old Sinhala speaking soldier telling me to turn off my flashlight and head back. Hearing the target practice in the base behind me, and seeing the darkness around me, I became (I confess) a tad nervous. I headed back in the direction that I came and became horribly lost. I look to my iPhone’s GPS for guidance – No Service (thanks Etisalat!).

Thankfully, the drunks in Jaffna are ridiculously friendly and have great senses of direction. After chatting with a cycle-gang of older teens with their bottles of Arak and Lion Lager at their side — the alcohol on their breath stinging my nostrils as I tried to keep a friendly face — one of them told me to hop on the back of his bicycle.

Not wanting to get on the wrong side of a gang of twenty somethings (even ones on bicycles that were friendly and spoke good English) I jumped on to the handlebars of the bike, and in a few minutes I was home at the hotel – with a new Facebook friend to boot!

This time, when I visited Jaffna, I didn’t get to see my awesome friend Paran, or visit Jana or Karthi’s families, but I will be there again in a few days, and I hope to meet up with them soon!