Many Indigenous children still burdened by disadvantage in Australia

Source: Xinhua| 2020-11-19 14:04:47|Editor: huaxia

SYDNEY, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) -- Australia may not seem like a country struggling with child welfare issues, however throughout its history Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (First Nations) children have faced poorer outcomes across a range of areas, affecting them right through to their later life.

This week, the Family Matters Report 2020 revealed that First Nations children were almost 10 times more likely than the broader population to be removed from their family home and placed in state care due to alleged instances of neglect or abuse.

Without urgent action, the number of First Nations children in out-of-home care would double within the next 10 years, the report warned.

"Our children are 9.7 times more likely to be living away from their families than non-Indigenous children, an over-representation that has increased consistently over the last 10 years," said Sue-Anne Hunter, Family Matters chair and a Wurundjeri and Ngurai Illum Wurrung woman.

"Permanently removing our children from their family and ties to community is not the answer to a happy, healthy and safe upbringing."

The data points to a broader set of issues disproportionately facing First Nations people growing up in Australia, extending to poverty rates, homelessness, unemployment and physical and mental health.

Seeking to raise awareness of such issues is this week's United Nations World Children's Day, which falls on Nov. 20 to mark the adoption of the Declaration of the Rights of the Child in 1959, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1989.

One of the principles of the declaration calls for education of all children, enabling them "on a basis of equal opportunity" to develop their abilities and become a useful member of society.

It also calls for those who face social disadvantages to be given "special treatment, education and care" as required by their circumstances.

While not all First Nations children face disadvantage, the disproportionate numbers of those who do requires special support from the government and community groups such as Save the Children Australia.

Noelene Swanson, director of Save the Children's Northern Territory and Western Australian operations, told Xinhua that much of the systematic and intergenerational disadvantage affecting First Nations children can be traced back to European colonization and the brutal policies that followed.

"When children are born into challenging circumstances beyond their control it can have a huge impact on their lives," she said.

To help even out the playing field, organizations like Save the Children support the empowerment of First Nations youths on the ground, as well as advocating for systemic change.

One of their initiatives was the inaugural Youth Empowerment Camp held last month, which brought together 60 First Nations young people, aiming to instil them with cultural knowledge and leadership skills for them to spread back into their communities.

Activities at the camp included cultural cook-offs, creating a hip-hop music video encouraging better skin care, a tour of a nearby pearl farm and discussions with Indigenous elders about their connection to the land.

Having programs specifically designed around First Nations' culture intends to foster pride in that identity, which in the past was subjugated by the actions and attitudes of Europeans.

"We know that children are far more likely to succeed when they have a positive self-identity supported by strong family and connections to culture," Swanson said.

Save the Children supports implementing the mandates proposed in the Uluru Statement from the Heart -- a document intended to guide "real, lasting and practical change," to address the challenges faced by First Australians.

It calls for a constitutionally enshrined representation of First Nations people in Parliament, giving them a voice to decide on the issues that affect them.

"Our families face extraordinary challenges every day. The impact of institutional racism and poverty often leads to unjust outcomes for our children and families," Hunter said.

"The choices we make for our children today will shape their tomorrow. Our kids have a right to be supported. Investing in their future must take priority." Enditem