Date: 
Friday 19 November 2010

Tomorrow’s anniversary of the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of the Child is a chance to highlight Australia’s international obligations to protect one of the most vulnerable groups in the country, the Australian Human Rights Commission said today.

Commission President and Human Rights Commissioner Catherine Branson QC, said despite Australia having a strong record in protecting the rights of children, the nation could do better.

“It is 20 years since Australia ratified the Convention and significant groups of vulnerable children and young people still lack adequate human rights protections,” Ms Branson said.

“In particular, Australia is currently not meeting its international human rights obligations to many of the child asylum seekers who are in immigration detention.

“We know, from recent and bitter experience, that the prolonged detention of children can cause serious mental harm.

“While the Commission welcomes the Government’s recent announcement that many of these children will be moved to community-based accommodation over the next seven months, Australia’s migration laws must be changed to prevent us ever again having a situation where more than 850 children are being held in detention,” she said.

Ms Branson also called again for a national Children’s Commissioner to be established which would raise awareness of the importance of children’s rights. 

“Children are often voiceless in mainstream society and hold little power in our political processes,” she said.

“They are unable to vote, are rarely consulted in a meaningful way about decisions that will affect their lives, and have less recourse than adults to challenge decisions that adversely affect their interests.”

Ms Branson said while most Australian children had access to free primary and secondary education, and most children in Australia had access to good primary health care, significant areas of concern remained.

“Overcoming Indigenous disadvantage and improving protections for children in Australia experiencing mental ill-health and for those experiencing homelessness, remain pressing challenges,” she said.

“It is shameful that 12-18 year olds represent the largest group of people experiencing homelessness in Australia,” she said.

For more information on children in detention go to www.humanrights.gov.au/about/media/speeches/speeches_president/2010/20101118_children.html for President Branson's Brad Selway Memorial Lecture delivered on Thursday, 18 November, Mandatory immigration detention of children in Australia: how far have we come and where to from here?

Media contact: Louise McDermott (02) 9284 9851 or 0419 258 597