This week is Children's Week across Australia, a time to raise awareness of the rights of the child, as the treatment of Indigenous and refugee children continues to be questioned.
By
Natalie Ahmat

29 Oct 2015 - 6:48 PM  UPDATED 29 Oct 2015 - 10:16 PM

EXCERPTS OF TRANSCRIPT

Natalie Ahmat: This week is Children's Week across Australia, a time to raise awareness of the rights of the child.

In 1959, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Declaration of the Rights of the Child. They include the child's right to equality, without distinction on account of race, religion or national origin. And the right to special protection for the child's physical, mental and social development.

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In recent weeks there has been major concerns about the treatment of children in detention centres, both in Australia, in particular, in the Northern Territory, and on Nauru.

Joining me now is Australian National Children's Commissioner, Megan Mitchell. Welcome. And in the SBS Melbourne studio is Victoria's Commissioner for Aboriginal children and Young People, Andrew Jackomos. Welcome.

I'll start with you Commissioner Mitchell, and let's start talking about children internationally first up. What can be done to help children in places like Nauru.

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Megan Mitchell, Australian National Children's Commissioner: Well from my perspective, and this is reflected under the Convention of the Rights of the Child to which Australia has joined and ratified and so all children are entitled to those rights under that convention - and in that convention it sets out that children should only be detained as a last resort and that, that should be for the shortest possible time.

Obviously for those children who are on Nauru and in other detention centres offshore and onshore that isn't the case and, you know, children are doing it really tough in those places. Detention isn't good for children.

"Indigenous children are 26 times more likely to be in detention than their non-Indigenous peers and that's a tragedy, because sending kids to detention is really just about sending them to criminal school"

Natalie Ahmat:  And what about back here in Australia. We know there are a lot of children locked up here in Australia, particularly First Nations children. 

Megan Mitchell: Yes well my colleague Mick Gooda at the Human Rights Commission has said on numerous occasions we are better at keeping kids in detention than we are at getting them to school, and in fact Indigenous children are 26 times more likely to be in detention than their non-Indigenous peers and that's a tragedy, because sending kids to detention is really just about sending them to criminal school. What they really need is a focus on community integration, supporting whatever their issues are, supporting their families so that they can be safe at home and go well in life.

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Natalie Ahmat (to Andrew Jackomos)What do you say about the high numbers of First Nations children that are being locked up in detention centres?

Andrew Jackomos, Victoria's Commissioner for Aboriginal children and Young People: In Victoria there are far too many, and particularly starting in remand. We know that the majority of children in remand have also come from out of home care, they have come from in care of the state, and the state needs to be a better parent in how we work with our children, how we support our childrne, how we're good parents.

"We know that the majority of children in remand have also come from out of home care, they have come from in care of the state, and the state needs to be a better parent in how we work with our children"

There's opporunities, and I'm pleased by the current government that we are looking at opportunities to divert children from detention but we also need to do a lot more work around bail.

Natalie Ahmat: Commissioner Mitchell, I did want to ask about the deeply concerning reports coming out of the Northern Territory about children in a Darwin detention facility, we've heard of reports of tear gas being used on children and general concerns about safety of that facility. How much influence or do you have any influence as the national commissioner in that space?

Megan Mitchell: Juvenile detention and what happens in those centres is primarily the responsibility of the state and territory governments. Obviously some state and territory governments care better for children in those circumstances than others. 

One of the things we can do nationally, as a nation, is sign the optional protocol to the Convention Against Torture and other inhumane treatment. This would allow a national inspection regime of all detention facilities including those for children to be put in place. Australia has signed that protocol but hasn't yet ratified it.