By Jo Gardener, UNICEF Australia Advocacy Intern
When I looked in my diary yesterday morning, the words “Universal Children’s Day” was printed in the fine small print in the corner of Wednesday 26th October. I began thinking about what the purpose of this day is actually all about: is it a day to give lollies to children and let them stay up that extra half hour past their bedtime? Or perhaps is it a day to donate to a humanitarian organisation focused on children’s rights?
Feeling a bit confused I advised Google and discovered that ‘[this day] calls society to a greater response to the plight of many millions of children around the world who are denied the basic necessities of a happy childhood.’ But then I started to question how I, as a young adult living in Australia, could possibly respond in one day to the plight of children whose rights are being denied?
I decided that I would do some research into children’s stories who had experienced a denial of their rights in an Australian context
. What I discovered was shocking.
I was particularly disturbed by an article which told a story of a 12-year-old Northern Territory girl who went into cardiac arrest caused by septicaemia of the leg after lying on the dirt in her foster carers' backyard for eight hours, unable to move. Unbeknown to the Social Services Department, the foster parents were responsible for an earlier death of a toddler who had died in a bucket of water as rigor mortis had set in. In a separate case, a seven-week-old baby died of starvation in the back of his mother's car at Port Wakefield, north of Adelaide.
It was then that I realised that my understanding of the rights of the child in Australia was largely misinformed. Incidences of neglect and abuse are occurring across the continent and the child protection systems are evidently inadequate.
As a result I have come to support the calls for the establishment of an Australian Children’s Commissioner
on a national level. Such a Commissioner would be able to listen to children’s concerns and needs, thoroughly monitor the protection of children and ensure their participation on a federal level.
Through involving myself more with the goals of ‘Universal Children’s Day,’ my understanding of children’s rights in Australia has been profoundly altered and I have been inspired to get active on the issue of establishing a National Children’s Commissioner. I hope for those of you who also noticed the small print in your diary marking, ‘Universal Children’s Day,’ that you too were enlightened and inspired on issues related to children’s rights.
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