Are the rights and welfare of Australian children and youths protected?

19 Jan

It is not something I admit giving much thought to since Australia is an established Western liberal democracy. With that, an implicit assumption that the government is likely to protect the rights or at least, have a significant interest on the welfare of young people in Australia.

Yet reports such as the ‘Young workers ‘being cheated’ and  ‘Study condemns ramshackle schools’ makes me wonder how pervasive children and youth rights are violated.

In the first article, Workplace Ombudsman Nicholas Wilson commented that young workers are ‘exploited in large numbers in the retail and hospitality sectors’ with ‘nearly nine out of every 10 of the breaches in either retail or accommodation and food services’.

This phenomenon is perhaps more wide-spread and systemic than a lack of awareness on the part of ignorant or recalcitrant employers. A report by NSW Commission for Children and Young People, ‘Making the Working World Work Better for Kids’ quoted a ‘Children at Work’ report, discovering ’40 per cent of the workers surveyed had sustained some form of work-related injury, with half of those requiring treatment. Just under half had suffered some form of verbal harassment, while one in five had to put up with physical harassment’. While the report acknowledges that adults can be exploited as well, it concludes that ‘children are peculiarly vulnerable to danger, harassment or exploitation at work’. Furthermore, it argues that the current system of workplace laws for children and youths are ‘highly fragmented’ amongst the different states and jursidictions.

Concurrently, another study by Adam Rorris revealed the Australian government is ‘spending about $1000 less for every student on school infrastructure than the US and Britain’. It equates to ‘a funding gap of $11.2 billion since 2002’. Making ends meet while paying for the cost of a tertiary education in the country has also become a significant issue for many young students as an AMP report has acknowledged. I quote, ‘The report found that students under the age of 25 living in share houses struggle to make ends meet’.

There is also the issue of homeless youth. The Australian Bureau Statistics Census, ‘Counting the Homeless – 2006’ found that 58% of the homeless were in the younger age groups (under 35). 12 per cent of the homeless were children under 12 years old (who were with their parents on census night). This does not include another 21% of the homeless whom were teenagers aged 12 to 18 (mainly on their own). Another 10% were young adults aged 19 to 24. It note, ‘… The age profile of the population is now much younger than was thought 40 to 50 years ago…’

The ‘Poverty and disadvantage among young Australians‘ survey by Youth Action and Policy Association (YAPA)  found that about ten percent of youths suffer from multiple disadvantages. Among the figures, it also noted:

– 1 in 10 could not access mental health services, nor were able to access dental treatment;
– 1 in 3 could not keep up with basic payments for services such as water, gas or electricity;
–  1 in 20 did not have somewhere safe nor stable to live; for young parents, this ratio was 1 in 4…

These reports and findings, when read in isolation, may be easily dismissed. Yet, when pieced together, it makes for alarming statistics, especially for a developed country like Australia.

In that respect, I think it is fair enough to pose the umbrella question of whether the rights and welfare of Australian children and youths are adequately taken care of or respected.

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