STATEMENT: Once the Royal Commission releases its report, Australia must change

Thursday, 14 December 2017 – Statement by Amy Lamoin, Director of Policy and Advocacy, UNICEF Australia:
 
“The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has shown that child sexual abuse is still a risk for children in schools, out of home care, recreational and many other institutions.
 
When it releases its findings and recommendations, expected to be tomorrow, it will present a pivotal moment for Australia to take action for our children - one of the most basic changes should be to start listening to our children.
 
A grave failure to listen
Article 12 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child addresses the right of the child to be heard, which means a right to express their views and to have those views taken seriously.
 
One of the gravest mistakes the Royal Commission has shone a spotlight upon has been the ongoing, routine failure of leaders within our institutions to listen to children at the crucial moments when they were at their most vulnerable.
 
When giving evidence, survivor witnesses repeatedly recounted that not being believed – or indeed being dismissed when they disclosed abuse to others - compounded the impacts of the sexual abuse, or was even more destructive for their development and wellbeing than the abuse itself. They revealed this failure had long-term negative impacts in their participation in education, meaningful employment, health and family life.
 
The message is clear: when you listen to children, you can prevent harm. It is now time for Australia to listen to our children.
 
We must now commit to change
Australia and its institutions must therefore commit to change to ensure another inquiry into these issues is not needed in the future.
 
UNICEF Australia calls on all political parties at state, territory and federal level to show bipartisan support for necessary reforms and the implementation of the Royal Commission’s recommendations. Leading into and following the 2018 election, these recommendations must translate into non-politicised, results-oriented policy change and policy platforms for the protection of children in Australia.
 
In January 2018, the Australian Government is also expected to report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child about its protection and promotion of children’s rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Implementing the Royal Commission’s recommendations will therefore- in UNICEF Australia’s view – be the best way for the Australian Government to demonstrate a commitment to its international obligations to protect children from all forms of violence and exploitation.
 
What we must do
We must create safe spaces in our homes, communities and institutions and have people with whom children feel safe to disclose abuse, and have confidence that their disclosures will be listened to and believed. Only then will they trust that effective action will be taken to respond to situations in which they have felt threatened or unsafe.
 
We must ensure that, where responsibility for implementing the Royal Commission recommendations lies at an institutional level, that all types of institutions in Australia are held to account to make improvements in their processes around child safety and responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.
 
We must reform the child protection system. A system which is designed to protect children must no longer be creating opportunities for children to be subjected to further harm. There is a clear need to build a child protection system with children’s safety and protection at its heart. It should be based on healing and recovery for children who have experienced harm, and provide effective supports for family reintegration. This is particularly important given the significant overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in the child protection system.
 
We must not only learn from the mistakes of the past, but commit to positive changes for children into the future. Because each and every one of us of us is accountable and has responsibility for preventing child sexual abuse and violence against children.”
 
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About UNICEF
UNICEF works in some of the world’s toughest places, to reach the world’s most disadvantaged children. Across 190 countries and territories, we work for every child, everywhere, to build a better world for everyone.
 
For more information about UNICEF and its work for children, visit www.unicef.org.au/
 
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For more information, please contact:
Brinsley Marlay, UNICEF Australia, 0403 604 182, bmarlay@unicef.org.au