Human Rights Watch warns that controversial NT crime reforms could 'ruin children's lives'

The current Don Dale Source: AAP

The controversial reforms have garnered fierce opposition, with Human Rights Watch weighing in to urge the NT government to reconsider its approach.

Human Rights Watch is urging the NT government to reconsider controversial youth bail laws, warning they could "ruin children's lives". 

The government has proposed making changes to the Bail Act and Youth Justice Act to "cut crime, keep the community safe and put victims first".

Police would also have more power to electronically monitor adolescents who are alleged to have committed a crime.

The proposed new laws were put before the NT parliament on Wednesday, sparking outrage from justice groups and setting in motion a protest through the streets of Darwin.

Human Rights Watch researcher Sophie McNeil said the laws could result in more Indigenous youths ending up in juvenile detention. 

"Northern Territory Chief Minister Michael Gunner’s ‘tough on crime’ approach has the ability to ruin children’s lives," she said. 

Ms McNeil said First Nations families would bear the brunt of these harsh measures.

“The Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children should be detained only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time, but the NT government has already conceded that these legal changes will lead to more children in detention,” she said in a statement. 

If implemented, police would also be allowed to take saliva samples from youths allegedly drink-driving and could conduct breath tests at a “point of incident” to any children allegedly driving under the influence. 

Previously, a responsible adult needed to be present for a saliva or breath test to be conducted.

A spokesperson for the Northern Territory government on Monday told SBS News that the reforms were necessary to create long-term changes and break the cycle of crime.

Ms McNeil urged the government to reconsider the reforms, highlighting the disproportionate number of Indigenous children in youth detention.

“The NT government should be focusing its attention on implementing the recommendations made by the Don Dale Royal Commission, rather than finding new ways of putting children behind bars,” she said.

Community leaders as well as  Aboriginal health and legal organisations on Wednesday took to the streets of Darwin to express their outrage over the impending introduction of the reforms.

Protest organiser and community advocate Mililma May told SBS News that the Indigenous community are “disgusted” that their calls for the government to abandon the approach has fallen on deaf ears.

“Rather than proceeding with these reforms which will have a destructive impact on our kids, I would strongly encourage them to invest resources with youth diversion, we know that it has been proven to work.

“We all want the same thing, for our communities to be safe and our children to stop reoffending,” Ms Mililma said.

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