Children's Rights

The following content draws upon, in part, the Joint Australian NGO Coalition's fact sheets prepared for the Universal Periodic Review.

National Policy Framework for Children

Despite Australia's ratification of the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1990, Australia does not have a comprehensive national policy framework for children. There has been a lack of integration of children's rights into Australian law, and no appropriate and effective mechanism exists to ensure the "coherence and compliance of all jurisdictions" in Australia for the protection of children's rights.

In 2005, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child noted that "there is no comprehensive policy at national level for children specifically addressing human rights issues that may impact on them," and also noted the need for more effective monitoring. Without a human rights framework for children, Australia fails to effectively set benchmarks or measure progress – particularly to improve the circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children – and disadvantage and abuse is not consistently monitored or addressed. For example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to experience high levels of abuse, neglect and exploitation.

In many areas, Australia still lacks the necessary data regarding the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. This lack of data inhibits progress to be made in overcoming disadvantage. Only with reliable data against internationally recognised measures, we can accurately direct resources to the areas of the greatest need and ensure that prevention and intervention strategies are implemented and effective.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children

There have been some positive developments for Australia's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in recent years, including the Apology to the Stolen Generations, the endorsement of the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (DRIP) and the establishment of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples. The commitment to "Close the Gap" in health standards and life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians by 2030 is also welcome. However, despite these developments, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to suffer significant disadvantage in the enjoyment of human rights

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on Australia to "take all possible measures to raise the standard of living of Indigenous children and children living in rural and remote areas". In March 2010, the UN Special Rapporteur on Indigenous Peoples (Special Rapporteur) reported the following areas of significant disadvantage faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:

  • Health and wellbeing: The living conditions of many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children increase the risk of lower standards of health and wellbeing. There are still significantly higher infant mortality rates compared with the rest of the population. Efforts at improvement are further impeded by the lack of culturally appropriate health services available for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
  • Education: Adequate education is lacking and is hampered not only by the accessibility of services but also by the lack of training and provision of bilingual teachers and culturally adequate education programs in remote areas.
  • Abuse and violence: Many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to experience high rates of abuse and violence and poor living conditions. The government has yet to adequately support culturally-appropriate child care and child protection strategies.
  • Over-representation in the criminal justice system: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be alarmingly over-represented in the justice system, being 28 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous children. Access to justice is poor in remote areas and is contributed to by inadequate provision of culturally appropriate justice services.

What the UN Human Rights Council recommended in the Universal Periodic Review

In January 2011 Australia was reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council during the Universal Periodic Review (or UPR) (a process whereby the human rights performance of all UN member states is reviewed by other states).  In June 2011 Australia provided its response to the 145 recommendations made by the Human Rights Council.

The Government has accepted over 90 per cent of the recommendations and has committed to incorporating the recommendations it has accepted into the National Human Rights Action Plan.

In relation to children's rights, the Human Rights Council made a number of relevant recommendations. Australia has responded to these recommendations as set out in the following table.

Recommendation

Stance

Explanation

Consider establishing an independent commissioner for children’s rights (recommendation 86.29).

Already reflected

Australia accepts the recommendation on the basis it is reflected in existing laws or policies and Australia will continue to take steps to achieve relevant outcomes.

Strengthen federal legislation to better protect children’s rights (recommendations 86.46 and 86.47).

Already reflected

Consider implementing the recommendations of UNHCR, human rights treaty bodies and special procedures especially with respect to children who are asylum-seekers or irregular immigrants (recommendation 86.38).

Already reflected

Implement a National Action Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Children and strengthen efforts to address the prevalence of violence against vulnerable groups (recommendations 86.72, 86.76 – 86.80)

Accepted

The National Plan for Violence Against Women and their Children is a 12-year agreement between Australian, State and Territory governments, including an outcome that ‘Indigenous Communities are Strengthened’.

Adopt legislation to prevent and combat violence against women and girls and to prosecute and punish the perpetrators (recommendations 86.73 and 86.74).

Accepted

States and Territories have in place legislation to criminalise violent conduct and sexual assault together with mechanisms to prosecute and punish perpetrators. The Australian Government has introduced legislation to prioritise the safety of children in family law proceedings and communicate that family violence and child abuse are unacceptable.

Remove obstacles faced by indigenous women and children in accessing health, education and employment opportunities (recommendation 86.119).

Accepted

No legal impediments to access have been identified.

Establish a National Children’s Commissioner to monitor compliance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (recommendation 86.28).

Accepted-in-part

The Australian Government is currently exploring a possible role for a national children’s commissioner.

Ensure that no children are held in detention on the basis of their migratory status and that special protection and assistance is provided to unaccompanied children (recommendation 86.129).

Accepted-in-part

Since October 2010, the Australian Government has relocated significant numbers of unaccompanied minors and vulnerable family groups from immigration detention facilities into community-based accommodation, while their immigration status is resolved. In limited circumstances, children may still be accommodated in low-security facilities within the immigration detention network. The Government aims to relocate half of all children in immigration detention facilities to community-based accommodation by the end of June 2011.

Withdraw reservations to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (recommendations 86.13 and 86.16).

Accepted-in-part

Australia will systematically review its reservations to human rights treaties, having regard to whether reservations remain necessary.

Comply with and implement the recommendations of international treaty bodies in prohibiting the sterilisation of women and girls with disabilities (recommendation 86.39).

Accepted-in-part

The Australian Government considers that the ‘best interests’ test as articulated and applied in Australia is consistent with Australia’s international obligations. The Attorney-General intends to initiate further discussions with State and Territory counterparts.

Prohibit corporal punishment within the family in all states and territories (recommendation 86.75).

Rejected

While Australia has programs in place to protect children against family violence, and laws against assault, it remains lawful for parents in all States and Territories to use reasonable corporal punishment to discipline their children.