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Australian Aboriginal children still vulnerable PDF Print E-mail
Sunday, 22 June 2008

 
CANBERRA, Jun 20, (bdnews24.com/Reuters) - Australian Aboriginal children remain vulnerable to sexual abuse a year after the government sent in police and soldiers to clean up their remote communities, the author of a report into the problem said on Friday.

Aboriginal groups are expected to hold weekend protests to mark a year since the former conservative administration ordered a sweeping intervention in outback towns and settlements to tackle chronic alcoholism from "rivers of grog" and child sexual abuse.

"They're more vulnerable because they're not in a school situation, they're not in any disciplined situation. They're just left in a house," said Rex Wild, the co-author of the Little Children Are Sacred report which led to the intervention.

Wild's government-sanctioned report found child sexual abuse was widespread in indigenous communities and alcohol posed the gravest threat to the safety of indigenous children in the outback Northern Territory.

Australia's 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the country's 21 million population and have consistently higher rates of unemployment, substance abuse and domestic violence, and a life expectancy 17 years less than other Australians.

In response to the report, former conservative prime minister John Howard ordered a sweeping takeover of Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory, placing strict controls on welfare payments and vowing to restore law and order.

Widespread sex abuse of Aboriginal children was a national emergency, Howard said. The conservatives were dumped in September elections, but centre-left Labor leader Kevin Rudd promised to continue the intervention.

Rudd also made an historic apology in parliament to Aborigines for past injustices and said he would improve indigenous lives.

A year since the intervention began and alcohol has been banned, 51 extra police had been recruited and 11,000 children have undergone health checks for problems including deafness, kidney disease, dental and heart problems.

Welfare payments are now quarantined for more than 13,000 Aborigines and managed by government so at least half is spent on food, clothing and other needs, rather than alcohol.

But 100,000 Aborigines still live in squalid housing and many children are still absent from school, figures show.

"People in Canberra who have never been inside these houses have no idea. It shows how futile it is to treat people for lice and scabies when they live in conditions like that," intervention doctor Chris Henderson told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

Wild said there had been progress, but government had not acted quickly enough on his recommendation to get children into preschool by three and school by five, leaving them vulnerable.

Sue Gordon, a children's court judge who headed the intervention, said there was a long way to go before Aboriginal lives improved, with many children yet to even get health checks.

"With the floating population of Aboriginal people, also the fearmongering that went on in the early days, you were never going to get all kids checked," Gordon told Australian radio, calling for long-term intervention funding.

Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin on Thursday promised the government was "in it for the long haul" for Aborigines.
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