Australia’s Aboriginal population has expressed deep concern at government plans to crack down on child sex abuse in the Northern Territory after a report found the practice was widespread in certain areas. Measures, which include banning pornography and alcohol, also return some 70 communities to government control.
Aboriginal leader Pat Turner: “We believe that this government is using child abuse as a trojan horse to resume total control of our lands.” Extra police forces have been sent to the area, backed up by army troops, to deal with a situation described as very serious by prime minister John Howard: “We regard this as akin to a national emergency,” said Howard.
The report said the abuse was fuelled by endemic alcohol abuse, unemployment, poverty and other factors causing a breakdown in traditional society. Life expectancy among Australia’s Aboriginal population is a staggering seventeen years lower than the national average.
Australia is home to about 400,000 Aborigines – that’s 2 percent of the population. About 50,000 live in the Northern Territory targeted by the new government crackdown – often in isolated, impoverished communities where unemployment is high.
The government plans – which include medical check-ups for children – have angered some Aboriginal leaders. They say they weren’t consulted, adding that it is this kind of government behaviour that has disenfranchised Aborigines and created the problems in the first place: “We won’t have any rights to look after our kids, if there is any medical examination they will be taken away from us,” said one woman. “I fear that there will be another case of ‘Stolen Generation’ children because they will be taken away from their mothers and fathers, grandparents and uncles and aunties,” said another woman.
The “Stolen Generation” refers to the Australian Aboriginal children, usually of mixed descent, who were taken from their families by the Australian government and the church up until the 1960s, with the stated aim of “culturally assimilating” them into Australian society.