“My father’s violence became so bad that I witnessed my mother being pinned against a wall with knives”.

The UN's frustrated with how Australia's traveling on children's rights. Picture: David Crosling.

This is one of the lines from a letter I received during my youth consultation in a South Australian homeless shelter. Its author was a girl who I will call “Charlotte”. She gave me this letter without hope or expectation that I would share her story.

I was surprised to receive the letter. Charlotte had been silent throughout the consultation. Her face had looked so sad and empty that I thought it best to leave her alone. I was stunned to learn from reading that she was only 17-years-old. She looked much older. As I read on, it was easy to understand why.

The violence of Charlotte’s father was followed by her grandfather sexually abusing her when she was six. Tragically, Charlotte’s cry for help was met with only silence from her family.

So she turned to alcohol to cope. When Charlotte’s family broke up, her mother remarried another violent man. To avoid further abuse, Charlotte fled to a homeless shelter, becoming one of the 22,000 young Australians who are homeless as you read this.

Too often and too easily, children like Charlotte are silenced in our society.
Currently youth organisations are organizing public forums, starting in Melbourne this week, to turn up the volume on children’s rights and wellbeing. These events are a follow up to a UN committee’s mid-year review of Australia’s implementation of the UN Convention of the Rights of a Child.

The committee’s report from the review, whilst dressed in the genteel advocacy of the UN, reveal its frustration with Australia’s checkered progress on children’s rights.

On one hand, Australia has made a marked improvement on children’s wellbeing in recent years. We now have national frameworks on early childhood development, child protection and the prevention of violence. Right now the Government is calling for applications for a National Children’s Commissioner. This newly established role will champion the voices of children and young people on the national stage. 

On the other hand though, it will take widespread community education and individual responsibility for us to succeed in curbing the frightening trends engulfing Australia’s most vulnerable children.

One such trend is occurring in the out-of-home care system. From 2005 to 2010 there was an overwhelming 51 per cent increase in the number of children placed in out-of-home care. This trend correlates with homelessness. Children who have been in care are significantly overrepresented within Australia’s homeless youth. This is largely because only around a third of these children have a proper leaving care plan. 

Secondly, the Committee has recommended that substantial reforms be instigated in the juvenile justice system. Over the last 20 years there has been a shocking rise in the overrepresentation of Indigenous youth in juvenile detention.

Today, Indigenous youth are 28 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous youth, an increase since 1993 when the ratio was 17.

These trends are hard for anyone to understand, let alone the Committee, when stacked up against Australia’s relative affluence. Perhaps Mother Teresa’s observation that “it is more difficult to fight poverty in a rich country than in a poor one” can best explain them?

Reversing these trends will require government investment and individual action. But more than that, it will require the right approach. 

Evidence shows that community interventions are much more likely to be successful if they embrace an approach which listens to vulnerable children. Listening to children means respecting a child’s voice, valuing their perspective and giving them some ownership and control in decisions which affect their life.

On a personal level, I know how powerful this approach can be. I was five when I was diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, a minor form of autism. When my family sought out specialists to assist me, they got only negative prescriptions of my future abilities. In defiance of this negativity, my family decided to deliver their own behavioural therapy.

It was my family’s respect for my voice that helped me develop my self-esteem. I never felt the burden of wearing a label, I was an equal participant in the world around me. Yet sadly, I have met too many young people with behavioural challenges like Aspergers or a physical or mental disability who have been made to feel as though their voice and participation were less valuable to the community.

Australia will next be reviewed by the Committee in 2018. Since 1997 the Committee has repeatedly called on Australia to respect the views of children. This should be the central plank of our agenda going forward.

Social problems like homelessness, crises like Indigenous juvenile detention and the marginalisation of children with disabilities do not have to be prevailing. We can prevail over them if we respond to a child’s cry for help with serious inquiry, not with silence. If we practice inclusion, not exclusion and if we celebrate, not tolerate a young person’s voice.
These actions on a micro level need to be complemented by action on the macro, such as the development by the Federal Government of a comprehensive plan of action for implementing the Convention as a whole. This plan should work towards giving full and direct effect to the Convention in Australian law.

Charlotte is part of the first generation of Australians to grow up with children’s rights. We may have failed to implement her rights, but that does not mean we cannot learn from her story.

We can use the Convention as a practical tool for promoting a culture of rights and responsibilities in the young that can benefit generations hereafter. But it will take each and every one of us. I believe we can do it. Don’t you?

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33 comments

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    • L. says:

      07:18am | 16/07/12

      “UN Convention of the Rights of a Child.”

      Seriously..??

      What a load of crap.

      Look at Australia, we have laws already in place to protect child,ren a large national police force to enforce these laws, Gov depts like DOCS to assist at a moments notice, foster families, num,erous church based charities, free education etc etc etc…and the UN is still “frustration with Australia’s checkered progress on children’s rights. “

      Seriously, what does the UN think we should do that we haven’t..?

      Does the UN really think ‘frameworks’ are going to stop violent, drunk sexual predators like the one who abused Charlotte..??

      A suggestion to the UN… When it comes to child protection, start in Africa, or parts of the mid-east, and let teh grown up countries sort ourselves out.

    • Tom says:

      07:48am | 16/07/12

      Well said - these bodies and like huge vaccum cleaners sucking up scarce public funds - having worked off shore on an aid project the amount of money i saw wasted by the UN was phenominal and depressing when it was the only body capable of doing anything thanks to its gravitas and funding ...

      There is no doubt that there is child abuse in Australia, however we do have the ability to deal with it (although in some cases this is limited by other factors including cultural and ethnic reasons ie Indigenous children need to be fostered out to indigenous people and in small communities that I have worked in this can be a major problem finding the right people (or any) to do it

      Too much money is wasted on UN report writing and not enough is ever spent on the ground doing.

      I suspect that when it comes down to it more people will be worried and outraged and comment on the story about the lambs which were shaken (see previous story) than they will be about children who are routinely abused and or hurt. Their parents will probably claim a good shaken never done them any harm!

    • HappyCynic says:

      08:40am | 16/07/12

      DOCS and their counterparts are chronically under-resourced, and puts children in more harm more often than not, foster-parents (like bio-parents) are a mixed bunch, some good some awful and most are woefully ill-equipped to deal with problem kids, church based charities aren’t well equipped to handle these kids either beyond a night in a real bed and a full stomach and the standard of free education in this country is generally abysmal.  I should know I’ve been through most of these wonderful (sarcasm) programs you speak of.

      If we’re not constantly trying to improve then we’re getting worse.  Sure there are places that are even worse but you know what they say, charity begins at home.

    • Chris says:

      09:19am | 16/07/12

      What is DOCS?

    • L. says:

      10:42am | 16/07/12

      “DOCS and their counterparts are chronically under-resourced, and puts children in more harm more often than not”

      Rubbish. While I agree that they are underfunded (aren’t all such organisation and charities?), I defy you to show us how DOCS is putting the majority of those in their care in ‘harm, more often than not’. One or two high profile cases of DOCS mistakes don’t a majority make.

      “foster-parents (like bio-parents) are a mixed bunch, some good some awful and most are woefully ill-equipped to deal with problem kids”

      Yes, yes.. and of course a UN ‘framework’ will solve not only this perceived skills shortfall, but will suddenly increase the numbers of those willing to do this thankless job.

      “I should know I’ve been through most of these wonderful (sarcasm) programs you speak of.”

      You may have been… So that makes you an expert on ALL DOCS cases and ALL foster parents?

      “If we’re not constantly trying to improve then we’re getting worse.”

      What makes you think we are not..??

      “Sure there are places that are even worse but you know what they say, charity begins at home. “

      True.. So let tell the UN to F.. off and so we can get on with I without being quilted into performing to the expectations of an organisation that is rightly famous for under-performing!!

    • Rose says:

      08:29pm | 16/07/12

      I can’t help but notice a distinct lack of anything even remotely close to understanding the intricacies of child protection in these posts. Child protection is not something straight forward that is easily solved, it is something that cannot be easily understood let alone solved. There is absolutely no way to protect children if nobody listens to them, DOCS (Department of Children’s Services, and it’s different state versions) is chronically underfunded, only the most severe cases even get investigated, let alone actioned. There are many children who have had more then 10 reports to the authorities, notifying them abuse against these children, who have still not been investigated. Children aged 11-12 and older are unlikely to be investigated at all, the idea being that if they’ve made it that far they should be OK. So many rationalities that prioritize abuse so that resources are not overstretched, when we should be saying that if there is abuse, at any level, we’ll check it out. Often lesser levels of abuse can be reduced or ended after parents are taught parenting practices, some parents mean well but genuinely don’t know how to parent, they have come from equally bad or even worse homes. Sometimes mum and dad have a public face which oozes good guy, super mum or are generally charming and butter wouldn’t melt in your mouth, who go home and treat their children in unspeakable ways. In such cases the child is often blamed for being ungrateful sods who just don’t appreciate what mum and dad have done for them.
      Children are put at risk by a system that does not investigate quite a substantial number of allegations, removes children from homes to place them in sometimes equally damaging foster homes (although most foster carers are absolutely wonderful, dedicated, caring people, there are those who are the complete opposite), by putting children in group homes with no consistency in carers (at this rate there are children who will never know what it is like to have a stable carer or living arrangement), by not giving kids access to longterm counselling and by not listening to kids when they try to tell adults what is happening to them.
      When it comes to child protection Australia is NOT a grown up country, we do not deal with it well and we spend so much energy pointing the finger at abuse in indigenous and ethnic communities we ignore the abuse in our own culture, in fact I’m becoming increasingly convinced that we target minority groups in order to distract attention away from problems with ‘mainstream’ families.
      The UN Convention is a starting point, it’s time Australia got serious about protecting vulnerable kids, because up until now we haven’t done a terribly good job!

    • Fiddler says:

      07:38am | 16/07/12

      “crises like indigenous juvenile detention”

      Just because you say it is a crises doesn’t mean it is. We in NSW, a state of nearly 8 million people have a grand total of around 200 juveniles currently in detention. That’s right 200, not even enough to fill a cinema. Maybe you should see just how hard they have to try to end up in there (the average inmate breaches their bail conditions 7 times before ending up in their and is usually on parole while committing offences, after having had three cautions for offences and a juvenile conference).

      Massive crises hey, and we solve this how? The fact is the ones who are in there for anything more than an overnighter are there because they want to be there. Stop feeling sorry for them, they are violent vicious little shits, just in miniature form. Don’t blame the government, don’t blame the system, the sole responsibility lies with them and their parents only.

    • AdamC says:

      09:35am | 16/07/12

      Fiddler, I agree. Any ‘solution’ which merely excuses the actions of young thugs - even more than we currently excuse them - is never going to work, or be acceptable to the community.

      I also agree that we should always strive to ensure that kids can grow up without exposure to violence or abuse. However, this article offers little advice in terms of achieving better outcomes in that respect, beyond the usual motherhood guff.

    • Admiral Ackbar says:

      01:25pm | 16/07/12

      Agreed. I’ve also never understood statistics like “Today, Indigenous youth are 28 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous youth…” Maybe, just maybe it’s because they’re 28 times more likely to commit crimes. Pinning the blame on anyone but themselves is delusional, then again I saw a Mother Teresa quote in there and anyone who thinks she is anything short of evil is equally delusional.

    • Rooz says:

      07:45am | 16/07/12

      Im with the U.N on this one, parents need to be licensed somehow otherwise they can be not allowed to reproduce.
      Russia should be ashamed for pathetically rejecting this as some kind of Agenda 21 conspiracy attempt to lower their birth rate. 
      With so many people willing to immigrate who are most likely better parents anyway, we can afford to crack down on parents at home who are abusing children, especially in the Indigenous communities and urban low income areas.

    • Emma says:

      08:00am | 16/07/12

      We just had the discussion in NZ that adults that have been convicted of certain crimes should be sterilised. But the discussion has been stopped following a PC outcry that we cannot take away the right to reproduce - even if you have been convicted of child abuse.

    • Arthur says:

      08:22am | 16/07/12

      You’re right. The solution is to discourage incapable parents breeding.

      Will any of these idiot socialist organizations and governments go with it? No way. They’re not in to fixing the actual problem.

    • fml says:

      10:37am | 16/07/12

      Emma,

      How is steralisation going to prevent child abuse? What if the person who was convicted was innocent? Just another case of oops, sorry old chap no hard feelings?

      In western society you are supposed to serve your time and then move on.

      I am totally against this, it will be abused by people to abuse men. Why is it a 20 year old woman can have sex with four underage boys, then the woman gets let off because she has “low self esteem”? but if were a male we call for castration? I think the sentencing handed out by judges need to be reviewed first before we introduce what is essentially torture.

      I am all for letting someone rot in jail but I am not for torture, it is undemocratic, also it the crime must have the same punishment regardless of gender.

    • Emma says:

      11:09am | 16/07/12

      fml

      Who says this would be only for men?

    • Arthur says:

      11:16am | 16/07/12

      I’m not talking about sterilization fml.

      How about discouraging babies instead of ENCOURAGING?

    • AdamC says:

      11:21am | 16/07/12

      We do not need to sterilise anyone. We could get a similar result by simply paying potential welfare mums to get and maintain a contraceptive implant.

    • fml says:

      11:49am | 16/07/12

      Emma,

      Because if they were talking about women everyone would be up in arms and calling it inhumane. Also with precedent set with the court ruling allowing that woman to get off with no child abuse charges then men will be the only “beneficiaries” of such a court ruling.

      How is steralisation going to prevent child abuse? only the death penalty would do that, and chopping off someones arms. And if someones arms are chopped off then society will have to take care of them for the rest of their lives. The PC are right about this one, there is no point in discussing something which is pragmatically directed at half of society.
      When the law rationalises women as victims, and men as perpetrators even if they are innocent, then this law is going only to affect men. The law may be ambiguous enough to include both genders but in practice it will only affect one.

      Arthur,

      If only words are used then that is fine.

      AdamC,

      There is nothing wrong with allowing for free contraception for women, it should just not be forced against any ones will.

    • Susan says:

      06:46pm | 16/07/12

      I believe there is certain research to suggest that enforced sterilisation does not necessarily remove the drive to abuse.  Digital penetration etc are typical methods utilised by those without erection capabilities and some [sexual] abuse doesn’t rely on penetration either.  It’s the psychological drive that’s the issue not necessarily having erections.  And of course, as others have said, removing a woman’s uterus may not affect her drive at all and certainly not her abuse behaviour.  Addressing high levels of testosterone and the chemical makeup may be more helpful.  I wouldn’t put pedophiles back in the community though and I know that may offend you fml because of the issue of once having served your time then you should not technically be punished in an ongoing manner.  This said, pedophiles are driven differently than most criminals (except serial killers) and I’m not sure usual principles can apply.  And I will generally defer to kids safety at the expense of an adult.  Serial pedophiles don’t stop because they can’t stop and they generally don’t really want to -  and that’s been proven again and again internationally.  They blame the victim and they turn them into an adult. I have been sickened reading the accounts of pedophiles who - sorry folks - turn a three year old into a sexually avaricious slut and themselves a pathetic victim of the child.  Whilst men tend to be considered the greater offender (statistically) of child sexual abuse, I think we are only beginning to realise the nature of the role of women in precisely the same abuse - either as the key abuser or as a companion.  fml, I really feel for your post but at the moment - and just using very broad and personal stats - I would perhaps consider 60% of offenders as male and 40% female.

      But I’ve seen ‘normal’ women sitting around in a family group making fun of one of their child’s penis and more than one grabbing it and making stupid remarks.  I think that foul and despicable behaviour but raise this form of abuse with them? Good lord, be prepared for the worst.

    • Al says:

      08:05am | 16/07/12

      Sorry, but by quoting Mother Teresa (the EVIL bitch) you have lost all credibility that you actualy care about the reality of what occurs.
      Are things perfect, no, but they never will be either.
      The UN Convention of the Rights of a Child actualy provide NO SOLUTIONS to the issues they see.
      In many cases they also fail to consider that there may be valid reasons for discrepancies in statistics such as the overrepresentation in prisions of Aboriginals (such as, they actualy broke the law). It is actualy the families of certain groups who make the choice to raise their children in a manner that distances them from the expectations and laws of the society in which they need to live and the consequences of their actions.

    • Testfest says:

      01:29pm | 16/07/12

      I’ve clearly not been keeping up with my Mother Teresa news, but back when I first heard of her in the 1980’s she seemed quite well thought of - fighting poverty in the ghettos, helping orphans and whatnot.

      Why is she evil now?

    • Jay says:

      02:34pm | 16/07/12

      What a despicable thing to say. You have no clue.

    • Philip Mehann says:

      03:02pm | 16/07/12

      Um, I lived in India 16 years, and whilst working as a doctor, I had the opportunity to personally observe and witness what Mother Teresa and her ‘Sisters of Charity’ partake in. I can guarantee you that the late Mother Teresa was not all sunshine, rainbows and goodness. She was more about converting locals to Catholicism and ‘saving their souls’ than helping the sick, the poor and the dying. I was at the time Catholic, but found the whole conversion of the locals, with neither their consent nor full comprehension, durng their dying moments, nothing short of distasteful.

    • Admiral Ackbar says:

      03:05pm | 16/07/12

      I agree that it is despicable associating Mother Teresa with anything good. Do some research, she had been a friend of poverty for some time, accepting millions of dollars from despots, dictators, and frauds and putting it towards opening up new houses of the dying instead of improving conditions in existing ones. Lack of pain killers for dying people, and keeping her staff and sisters purposely ignorant of medical practices. I’d go on but you really need to open your mind for yourself, she was a puppet of the Catholic church who did more to increase suffering of the poor than alleviate it. It’s amazing what people can get away with when they’re considered holy.

    • Al says:

      09:02am | 17/07/12

      Testfest - re: Mother Teresa:
      fighting poverty in the ghettos - never happened, do some research.
      Helping the sick - Do you call isolating seriously ill people from their friends and family, not providing them with medicine or clean quaters etc. ‘Helping’. She (and the branch of Catholicisim she practiced) was all about the holiness of suffering (not reducing it) and she was basicly providing places for people to lie down and die with no real medical care or even hygenic conditions.
      So yes, I define her as evil.

    • Readitagainguys says:

      09:23am | 16/07/12

      Is it just me or have all comments so far missed the whole point of the article? To me it’s very clear Chris is writing about the need to involve children more in decisions that concern them, and actually listen to them, but the comments so far have seemed to overlook this. By complaining about or calling for more from the UN, Government, parents, etc, you’re still all saying the same thing: it’s for adults to decide and impose what’s best for kids, and they’re often doing this all wrong. I agree with the latter, but not the first. It’s been shown time and time again that when kids are involved and empowered to have a say in key decisions affecting them, outcomes are better and longer lasting. This is a key message of the UN Convention, which after all wasn’t written to set out actual programs or systems to be implemented (as some of the comments seem to suggest), but rather principles to be followed when designing and implementing programs.
      Thank you for drawing our attention to the need to listen to and involve children, Chris.

    • AdamC says:

      10:00am | 16/07/12

      “I agree with the latter, but not the first. It’s been shown time and time again that when kids are involved and empowered to have a say in key decisions affecting them, outcomes are better and longer lasting.”

      Really? What are you basing that on?

      I actually do not disagree with giving kids input on decisions that affect them, but decisions ultimately must be taken by adults. If children were able to make all their own decisions, we would never have developed the concept of childhood in the first place.

    • Rose says:

      09:13pm | 16/07/12

      AdamC….whatever happened to comprehension?  Readitagainguys never said that children should make the decisions, he said when children are “involved and empowered” that outcomes are better. That’s because often it is only the children who really understand their own situation, the rest of us can not ever really know what happens behind closed doors or how the children feel about it. Often their abusers are also the ones who spend time with them, having good times with them as well as the abuse, particularly in terms of sexual abuse. Do you have any idea how confusing that would be for a child, the parent who is on one hand a loving and caring parent in some situations is also the parent that in other situations causes the most pain, and does things to them that they are pretty damned sure others wouldn’t believe if they told them.
      Talk to the kids, get a sense of what is going on for them, what they want resolved and how they want it resolved. Get all the information you can, give the kids a voice that they know will be listened to, and then the adults can make decisions for them.

    • Readitagainguys says:

      10:39am | 16/07/12

      Of course. I didn’t suggest kids should have ultimate decision making power, but rather that kids should be involved in decisions.  This doesn’t mean just following whatever kids say; it’s about adults consulting with and listening to kids, so the decisions that are ultimately made by adults are well informed and considered. That’s why I said kids should ‘have a say in decisions’ - not that kids should be allowed to make all decisions.
      If you want more information on the benefits of including children in decision-making, just google it. There’s more literature out there on it than I could possibly list here. Participation Works (UK) is a good starting point.

    • adolph stalin says:

      02:26pm | 16/07/12

      so if you commit a crime the colour of your skin decides if it is societies fault or yours??what a joke,a thief is a thief,a pedophile is a pedophile,a murderer is a murderer simple as that anyone who plays or promotes the race card is just a vile creature who ensures we will never be all classed as equals

    • Kage says:

      07:11pm | 16/07/12

      Wow, the comments ‘round here get more incoherent and less relevant to the articles everyday.  Well done, everyone.

    • Kage says:

      07:11pm | 16/07/12

      Wow, the comments ‘round here get more incoherent and less relevant to the articles everyday.  Well done, everyone.

    • Sajjad says:

      03:30pm | 07/08/12

      Hi Rich,Are you able to elaborate at all?We don’t tyllacpiy reply to individual abuse requests but that’s not to say we don’t try and take preventative measures. Our outbound mail also passes through Cisco Ironport anti-spam appliances (although the filtering mechanisms in place aren’t as aggressive as we could make them).Best regards,Bob PullenPlusnet Digital Care

    • Laura says:

      03:47pm | 07/08/12

      Meth Abuse Dot Org welcomes you to place cometnms on the subject of meth abuse and other similar topics. We look forward to your cometnms on meth abuse and any similar topic.

 

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