By Georgina Pickers
NCWQ Human Rights Adviser
Human Rights groups and the Australian Human Rights Commission headed by Professor Gillian Triggs, has called for an a second inquiry as to why 1000 children are being held in detention, including 700 at Christmas Island and 100 in the Nauru facility. While the surrounding fences and facilities may not be ‘child friendly’ the dangerous environments, refugee camps or other places certainly would have been worse. The last report was in 2004. Since then measures including community detention and bridging visas have improved the situation the previous Federal government also failed these children.
Many were sent unaccompanied in the hope that Human Rights conventions would oblige Australia to treat them with more sympathy and speedy entry. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989, states the best interests of the child must be a primary consideration in “all actions regarding children”. It also states that a child may be detained “only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time”. This is an international human rights convention to which Australia is a signatory.
According to the UNHCR 2012 Yearbook there were estimated to be approximately 15.4 million Refugees worldwide. There were some 928,200 asylum seekers. With on-going and escalating conflicts this figure has no doubt increased. Australia, with its’ many assets, generous social welfare system (compared to developing countries) will be a magnet to the hundreds of thousands of refugees, escaping from physical harm, bad governance and or simply economic circumstance. In the future how Australia accommodates and provides new arrivals with employment will require the ‘wisdom of Solomon’.
The “stop the Boats” strategy of the Abbot government appeared to have had positive results. The confidentiality of the operation has raised the ire of media and human rights groups but the compelling reality is that the risky undertaking due to the lucrative exploitation by people smugglers is declining.
Acts of rape and extreme violence against women in India and Pakistan continues to attract world media attention. The culture of these countries is used as an excuse for on-going behaviour. Many countries, including Australia may have underlying sexist attitudes towards women, but in a minority and not in the society. The negative image, damage to tourism, disgust and loss of respect increases when the modern World is watching.
Attorney General George Brandis has flagged intentions to amalgamate the human rights bureaucracy. Currently there are eight positions including the President, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice, Disability Discrimination, Age Discrimination, Children, Race, Sex and Freedom Commissioners. Members of the Human Rights commission are due to retire this year.
It is distressing to know that underage girls are being forced into arranged marriages in Australia today. Prue Goward, the NSW Minister for Community services, commented that it might be commonplace in certain communities in Sydney, however evidence is difficult to obtain unless coming to the direct attention of government services or the law. Practices that allow for the denial of the rights of children, be they religious or cultural, have no place in any state or territory under Australian law. An education program is necessary for new-immigrants often ignorant of local laws and customs. Current laws may need to be reviewed to ensure this protection.