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Children’s rights in Australia

Under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, all children are meant to enjoy equal rights in terms of access to education, healthcare and safety.

Almost 30 years ago, Australia signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, an international agreement that promises to give children the rights to a safe and healthy childhood.

But according to UNICEF, since the last report, Australia has made little progress in ensuring that every child’s rights are protected. 

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Supporting education and mental health

“Where we’re most concerned is the education space. We think that children are being left behind in terms of the quality of education that they’re receiving and educational equity. We are concerned about mental health as a really big part of this picture, really high levels of stress and anxiety in our young people in Australia,” says Amy Lamoin, UNICEF Australia’s head of policy and advocacy.

One in six Australian children lives in poverty, while one in seven suffers from a mental health condition.

“What we know is a major issue for children in Australia, in the Pacific, and globally, is how is the government is responding to the climate change picture and how are they ensuring that children grow up in a clean environment,” adds Lamoin.

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Preventing physical and sexual violence

The 2016 Personal Safety Survey by the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that one in eight people had experienced physical or sexual abuse before the age of 15.

According to the Australian Centre for Child Protection, one in 35 children received child protection services from 2017 to 2018. 

Karen Flanagan, senior policy advisor of Save the Children Australia, believes better protection for children starts in abolishing all forms of physical punishment in the family environment. 

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Calling out racism

Australia is a multicultural country with close to one in ten children born overseas and around six per cent of children of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent. Unfortunately, studies show that racism is rife.

“We need to be calling it out in our school system so educators and children need to work together to make sure that children aren’t experiencing racism in the classroom or in the playgrounds and so that they can claim all the other really important rights that they have to grow up well like getting good education, like being treated fairly, like being safe, including being culturally safe and respected for their background,” says National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell.

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The importance of empowering children

Megan Mitchell advises to educate children about their rights: “It’s really important that we engage them in a conversation about how they can improve their resilience, seek help, and how we can make sure that they get the help they need so that they don’t sit on feelings of feeling anxious but they actually are able to speak up about those things and get the help that they need.”

For real changes to happen, Karen Flanagan says there needs to be a shift in how children’s concerns are received.

“Sometimes, adults think that if you give children too many rights, they will be disrespectful and they will take advantage of that. That’s certainly not the case and that’s certainly not our experience. In fact, when children are empowered and treated respectfully by adults in particular, it certainly will lead to a more peaceful and democratic society.”

For information on children’s rights in Australia, seek advice from your local legal aid centre. For emotional support, contact Kidsline on 1800 55 1800, Lifeline on 13 11 14, or call 000 if you or someone you know is in immediate danger.