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Youth Belong in Communities – Not Behind Bars

At Amnesty International, we have received reports of tear gas continually being used on the youths at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin, despite the Royal Commission committing to putting an end to this barbaric crowd control procedure.

We are pushing to raise the age of children in detention to 14 and are advocating for children aged between 10-13 to be removed from detention immediately. The recommendation for children of this age that have offended is to be placed in intervention programs that address the underlying issues which lead to offending behaviours.

Prisons like Don Dale are archaic and it has been proven that this location is not suitable for adults and is most definitely not suitable for youth that are incarcerated.

Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights Adviser, Rodney Dillon, said there were issues at the centre around the training and numbers of staff.

“Lock-down is being used more frequently, and there are concerns about the ongoing use of isolation units,” he said.

“The government is saying that the doors of a new Don Dale will be opened in 2021, but that’s far too long for these children to wait. The NT Government needs to act now to address the underlying issues that lead to children being locked up.”

Children are not commodities to be bargained with, nor are they cheap pawns in a political argument. Most importantly, children should not be in detention and by placing children in detention, is a violation of the Convention on the Rights of a Child (CRC) and the right to protect them civilly, politically, economically, socially and culturally.

Under the CRC, a child has the right to be treated fairly, to have a say about decisions that affect them, to be safe, to have access to an education, to live and grow up healthy and to play and have fun. The treatment of youth behind bars at Don Dale is in direct violation of many of these factors and it has to stop. We can and we should be doing better. The future of our vulnerable youth depends on us turning this around for them. We at Amnesty believe that the government needs to focus on these reforms as soon as possible to raise the minimum age.

The report handed down by the Royal Commission on November of last year had a number of recommendations to address significant concerns for the children incarcerated at Don Dale. However, the current lawsuit on behalf of detainees is alleging these human rights abuses are still occurring.

Some children around Australia still face persecution and a lack of protection of their rights and children in detention in any capacity, children experiencing homelessness or family breakdowns or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander communities are most at risk.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on countries to raise the age to at least 14 years old. The median global age is 14 years and countries like China, Russia, Germany, Spain, Sierra Leone, Azerbaijan, Cambodia and Rwanda have shown leadership by taking this step and we must do the same for Australian kids.

So many voices of vulnerable children are going unheard in the wider public space and we at Amnesty want to advocate for those without voices are fill those gaps so these atrocities cannot continue and these children have their rights re-enforced. These big decisions directly affect them and their lives long-term. We know the statistics; we know that children locked up before the age of 14 are three times more likely to reoffend.

Raise the age. Children below the age of 14 do not belong behind bars, they belong in our community. We need to do better.

Words by Jacqui O’Leary

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