The St Vincent de Paul Society believes every child deserves a safe place to live and to learn. We join with the community in marking National Child Protection Week 2016.
Running from 4-10 September and now in its 26th year, the theme this year is Protecting children is everyone's business.
The Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) is using the week to raise awareness of children and families in immigration detention.
In June 2016 Australian government statistics showed 49 children were being held in detention facilities at Nauru, while 296 children were in community detention on the Australian mainland.
In an expression of solidarity with these children, Catholic schools across the country are taking a stance against the practice, through voluntary lunchtime detention.
Others are conducting simulation activities, whereby children imagine what it might be like to be housed in a refugee camp, with no more than three personal items.
An estimated 200 students took part in a large-scale Circle of Silence event in Melbourne’s CBD last Friday. It was organised by CAPSA.
Along with the locking up of children in immigration detention, the St Vincent de Paul Society is appalled by the locking up of primary school aged children in juvenile detention centres.
Far from deterring them from unlawful activity, children who are criminalised are at a heightened risk of repeat offending.
Yet in all Australian states and territories, children as young as ten can be charged by police, tried in courts and imprisoned. This is inconsistent with a requirement by the United Nations, that 12-years old is ‘the lowest internationally acceptable minimum age of criminal responsibility.’
Indigenous children are 24 times more likely to be locked up than non-Indigenous children.
In the Northern Territory, as many as 97 per cent of those in detention have an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background.
The Society calls for legislative change to advance the rights of all children throughout the country. This includes raising the age of criminality from 10 to 12, in line with UN recommendations, while recognising the detention of children should only occur as a last resort, and for the shortest time possible.
Prolonged and indefinite detention has been shown to be damaging to children’s development and their psychological and emotional health.
To address the issue, there needs to be a greater focus on breaking the nexus between poverty, the child protection system and involvement in the juvenile system.
Photos: School children from Bethlehem College, in Ashfield, Sydney, taking part in a National Child Protection Week event in 2016. Photography by Fran Sheahan.