5 June 2012
The Committee on the Rights of the Child today considered the reports of Australia on how that country is implementing the Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography and on children involved in armed conflict.
The delegation of Australia, led by Peter Woolcott, Permanent Representative of Australia to the United Nations at Geneva, said that the Government was aware that Australia was a destination country for victims of trafficking, including children, and that was why the National Action Plan on Trafficking included actions related to children. Sex tourism offences were included in the Criminal Code, while Australian Child Offender Register contained data about persons who committed such offences against children at home and abroad. On the regional level, Australia, together with Indonesia, initiated in 2002 the Bali Process to support regional cooperation and increase capacities of countries to address trafficking and smuggling in persons.
Australia recognized the devastating impact of small arms in some areas of the world and would not permit export of small arms when it had credible information that those arms would be used in armed conflicts and against children. The Government was engaged in international processes concerning private security service providers such as the International Code of Conduct Montreux Document and Process. Further, Australia worked with the United Nations Security Council to develop a framework for the protection of children in armed conflict and supported a number of organizations such as United Nations Children Fund to implement programmes aiming to protect rights of children in conflict zones.
Peter Guran, Committee Rapporteur for the report on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, appreciated progress made in preventing sex tourism and criminalization of sex tourists and asked about the policies to further protect children from sex tourism. Mr. Guran asked about the definition of the child in state legislation, the age for sexual consent, and prostitution legislation. Other Experts raised questions about measures to protect Aboriginal children from sexual exploitation, about actions to counteract the new phenomenon of online grooming, and whether sex tourists prosecuted in Australia needed to pay compensation to the victims.
Awich Pollard, Committee Rapporteur for the report on the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, said that the legal status of the Optional Protocol was that it could not be directly applied; did Australia ensure that participation in hostilities of children under the age of 18 was specifically prohibited in its Criminal Code? The delegation was also asked whether Australian Defence Forces targeted schools and children of specific socio-economic status in its recruitment and how the Government ensured that small arms exports followed the guidelines and were not provided to countries in which children took part in armed forces or hostilities.
In concluding remarks the Committee’s three country Rapporteurs appreciated the progress made in Australia and the political will of its Government. They noted the outstanding issues such as coordination, effectiveness, data collection and the ability to expend the protection of rights among different states.
The delegation of Australia included representatives of the Department of Attorney-General, Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Department of Immigration and Citizenship, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, Department of Defence and the Permanent Mission of Australia to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will release its formal, written concluding observations and recommendations on the reports of Australia towards the end of its three-week session, which will conclude on 15 June 2012.
The next public meeting of the Committee will take place at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 6 June, when the Committee will consider the second and third periodic report of Greece (CRC/C/GRC/2-3).
The initial report of Australia on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography can be read here (CRC/C/OPSC/AUS/1) and the initial report on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of children in armed conflict here: (CRC/C/OPAC/AUS/1).
Questions by Experts on the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography
PETER GURAN, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Australia on the Optional Protocol the Sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, asked whether there was additional information concerning education and training on the Optional Protocol in Australia and in particular among the victims. What was the training in the provisions and issues of the Optional Protocol provided to police, immigration police and justice officials? Good quality data on a national level was lacking and it was hard to get the comprehensive picture. Was there an initiative to get the complete picture for the situation in the whole of Australia? Concerning the National Action Plan to Eradicate Trafficking, Mr. Guran asked if any part of it was related to children. What was the definition of child prostitution in the law and what was the age at which prostitution was criminalized? Were children involved in prostitution treated as victims? What were the services provided in all states for children victims of those crimes? The Committee appreciated progress in preventing sex tourism and criminalization of sex tourists and asked whether there were policies in place to maintain strategies to protect children from sex tourism.
A Committee Expert welcomed the 2006 extradition rule which was based on the Optional Protocol and asked whether there were cases when this rule had been applied. Another Expert asked what measures had been taken to protect Aboriginal children from exploitation, including sexual and labour? What measures would be taken to reintegrate children victims back to families, when children were runaways or street or homeless children? Australia was the most effective country in the world in prosecuting sex tourists, said another Expert, and asked if the sentences passed involved compensation to the victims.
A new phenomenon in sexual exploitation of children was online grooming and a Committee Expert wished to hear more about actions taken to counteract this and to prevent import of child pornography materials. How was monitoring of sex offenders done? Turning to international cooperation, a Committee Expert asked for confirmation that Australia would continue with its programmes to control and eradicate sale of children and child pornography. What measures were taken to avoid harmful practices of sexual abuse of children and very young children in indigenous communities?
Questions by Experts on the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict
AWICH POLLARD, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Australia on the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, said that the quality of the report was very high and did not foresee any challenges Australia would face in meeting its provisions. Were the children consulted in the preparation of this report? The legal status of the Optional Protocol was that it could not be directly applied; did Australia ensure that participation in hostilities of children under the age of 18 was specifically prohibited in its Criminal Code? Was recruitment of children under the age of 18 by armed forces prohibited in both time of peace and time of conflict? What were recruitment procedures for the Australian Defence Forces in connection with the information on the level of duty? What was the definition of the Australian Government of direct participation in hostilities? Were there plans to amend the rules of deployment in line with the Optional Protocol?
The delegation was asked whether Australian Defence Forces targeted schools and children of specific socio-economic status in its recruitment. In 2010 Australia had exported small weapons to countries in which use of children in armed forces or in hostilities had been reported; how the Government ensured that small arms exports followed the guidelines? How did Government ensure that private security companies complied with the provisions of the Optional Protocol? Was it possible to prosecute children on charges of terrorism and had there been any such cases in Australia? Minimum age of voluntary recruitment was 17, but 16 years and 6 months of age also applied; how many under-18s had been recruited into the Military Academy? How was duty of care that Australia accepted in 2008, practically implemented? Was there a mechanism in place to screen for formed child soldiers among children asylum-seekers and what support was available for such children?
Response by Delegation on the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography
The delegation said that the Optional Protocol on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography had not been specifically included in training programmes. Dissemination of this treaty was being done under the process of the accession of Australia to international treaties and in the process of amending the Criminal Code to comply with the obligations arising from the Optional Protocol. While the national curriculum did not expressly refer to the Optional Protocol, there were many resources on the protocol available to support teachers in their pedagogical practice. Where the Optional Protocol had direct bearing on the work of particular professionals, such as immigration officials and people working with children, it would be usual for the protocol to form part of their training. The Whole of the Government Committee was also bringing relevant people and institutions together on a regular basis and this was another way in which the Optional Protocol was disseminated.
A Committee Expert asked what happened and what kind of response was triggered when a child would press an alarm button on a computer equipped with a programme to prevent online grooming and other forms of exploitation of children. Responding, the delegation said it was a computer programme that only provided information to children and was not an alarm button per se and so did not trigger any kind of response.
In 2002, the Bali Process had been initiated by Australia and Indonesia to raise awareness about trafficking in persons and to assist in developing strategies for response. The Fourth Bali Process Ministerial Conference had been held in March 2011 and looked at increasing capacities of countries to look into trafficking in persons and smuggling of persons. Anti-trafficking activities formed part of Australia’s official development assistance programme. The National Action Plan on Trafficking did relate to children and the Government was aware that Australia was a destination country for victims of trafficking, including children. The Support to Trafficked People Programme provided support to almost 200 persons over the last eight years and there were 66 people in the programme at the moment; it was demand driven and implemented by Australian Red Cross.
Turning to questions related to disparities between States with regard to the age for sexual consent and definition of child in prostitution laws in States, the delegation said that children involved in prostitution were always treated as victims. The age of consent was 16 years, but it was an offence to involve child in prostitution and child was anyone before the age of 18.
Child sex tourism offences were included in the Commonwealth Criminal Code and Australians who committed the offence abroad were tried at home and could receive a sentence of up to 25 years in prison. The 2010 reforms to the Code introduced criminalization of intent to commit sex offence against a child, which could include online grooming for example, and carried a sentence of up to ten years in prison. The Australian Child Offender Register contained data about persons who committed offences against children at home and abroad. This Register was designed and was managed by the Commonwealth on behalf of state and territorial police and was accessible only by the police.
Australia had a comprehensive strategy to combat slavery and sale of persons; those offences applied to all persons regardless of where they were committed, at home or abroad and carried a sentence of 25 years in prison. In May 2012, a bill had been introduced, which if approved, would criminalize stand alone sale of organs. It was an offence in all states and territories to receive payment for adoption. Concerning the 2006 extradition rule, the delegation said that to date, there had been no individuals extradited from Australia for slavery or sale of children.
Australia acknowledged that the collection of disaggregated data on the national level could be improved and this was planned within the new National Human Rights Action Plan. The Government was aware of issues in birth registration, in particular in case of Aboriginal people, and social exclusion that originated there. In response, it had raised the matters of accessibility and awareness with state administrations and had worked with the National Bureau of Statistic to improve data collection on birth. Birth could be registered at any time and could be triggered by life events such as school enrolment, issuing of driver’s licence or opening bank account. Reparation orders for victims of sexual exploitation were possible under the law in addition to criminal procedures; the delegation however did not have data about such cases at the moment.
Response by Delegation on the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict
The Australian Defence Force did conduct career and other events in secondary school to provide students with the information concerning career in armed forces. No other recruitment activities in schools were conducted. According to the Optional Protocol, the regulations of the Australian Defence Force stated that the armed forces needed to ensure that minors were not involved in hostilities, which was achieved by avoiding their deployment in areas where hostilities occurred. Person younger then 18 needed parental or guardian consent to join the armed forces; anyone could resign when wanted since it was a voluntary organization. The Australian Defence Force cadets were not part of the Australian Defence Force, were not armed group and their use of arms was limited to training.
A Committee Expert asked whether parents of children who wanted to join the armed forces were provided with all the relevant information in a language they understood. In response, the delegation provided the description of steps in recruitment process and emphasized the voluntary character of it and informed parental consent. Printed and electronic information about military careers was provided on relevant websites, while parents and guardians could listen in to information sessions and ask questions. It was not in the interest of the Australian Defence Force to have a member joining under misapprehension.
Young man and women were able to start their application for the Australian Defence Force Academy at 16 years of age and the application for the Australian Defence Force at 16 years and 6 months, but would not be admitted before reaching 17 years of age. All commanding officers who had minors under their command had the responsibility to ensure compliance with state and national laws and discharge its duty of care appropriately. Conscription had been introduced in Australia in World War II but there had been no conscription since 1972.
Australia recognized the devastating impact of small arms in some areas of the world and would not permit export of small arms when it had credible information that those arms would be used in armed conflicts and against children. Armed export controls were conducted by the Department of Defence and all exports needed to be approved by the Minister on a case by case basis and in accordance with agreed policy criteria and human rights concerns.
The delegation did not have the information at hand concerning use of children by private security service providers and would provide written reply to that effect. The Government was engaged in international processes concerning private security service providers such as the International Code of Conduct Montreux Document and Process.
Australia had experience with the arrival of young people who used to be child soldiers, who were referred for assistance to other institutions with experience of assisting victims of torture and trauma, including former child soldiers. Australia worked with the United Nations Security Council to develop framework for protection of children in armed conflict and supported a number of organizations such as United Nations Children Fund to implement programmes aiming to protect rights of children in conflict zones.
MARTA MAURAS, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Australia, in her closing remarks, said that the Committee appreciated the progress made in Australia and noted the issues that arose such as coordination, effectiveness, the ability to expend the protection of rights among different states. The Committee did not understand why Australia kept its reservation on an article of the Convention. More needed to be done concerning bullying and violence so that Australia was more protective society and this could include universal ban on corporal punishment. Many questions still needed to be answered concerning family care and where all the support provided led. There was over-representation of Aboriginal children in foster care and this needed to be tackled, as was free and universal early childhood education. The Committee wished to hear more about measures to close gaps with Aboriginal people and shared concerns of the Independent Expert on indigenous people concerning the situation in the Northern Territories.
PETER GURAN, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Australia on the Optional Protocol the Sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography, in closing remarks, said that dissemination and training of the provisions of the Optional Protocol were not sufficient and it was not clear how it was implemented. Lack of comparative and good data to compare level of progress needed to be addressed by the Government.
AWICH POLLARD, Committee Expert acting as Rapporteur for the Report of Australia on the Optional Protocol on the involvement of children in armed conflict, said in concluding observations that there was a demonstration of the political will to apply this Protocol. The only thing needed to be done by Australia was the prohibition of the use of children in armed conflict and to support other countries in the implementation of this Optional Protocol.
PETER WOOLCOTT, Permanent Representative to the United Nations at Geneva, in closing remarks, said that the discussions in the Committee had been very focused and constructive. Mr. Woolcott acknowledged the important role of Australian non-governmental organizations in providing information to the Committee and reiterated the commitment to continually do better and to continue to improve its record on the rights of the child. The time for the discussion was limited and Australia had provided more information in the written report, which would cover most of the Committee’s concerns.
JEAN ZERMATTEN, Chairperson of the Committee, in closing remarks, thanked the delegation of Australia for their participation and for additional responses to be provided at a later date to facilitate the preparation of concluding observations.
For use of the information media; not an official record