Australians protest torture of children in detention

Hundreds of protesters gather across Australia against abuse of Aboriginal children held juveniles in detention centres.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Demonstrators gather outside Sydney's Town Hall to protest against alleged child abuse in Australia's Northern Territory detention centres. July 30, 2016.

Australians gathered across the country on Saturday to protest the mistreatment of Aboriginal children held in juvenile detention centres, following disturbing footage released by the ABC’s Four Corners report.

About 300 people turned out in Sydney, while similar protests were held in Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane.

Protesters held up signs and banners that read "Kids need nurture never torture" and "Children are precious".

Student Marlon Schloeffel said the issues were ingrained in Australian culture and were only getting worse.

"I'm here to support Indigenous people and their struggle; you know they've been oppressed [through] colonization by the Australian states and government and this has continued, it's worsened," Schloeffel said.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ordered a Royal Commission, the most powerful enquiry in the country, into the treatment of children in detention earlier this week after footage showed prison guards at Don Dale detention centre in the Northern Territory, tear gassing teenage inmates and strapping a half-naked, hooded-boy to a chair. Turnbull however, rejected calls for a broader national inquiry.

Protesters also expressed their frustration with the lack of consultation with the Indigenous Australians over the royal commission's terms of reference.

"I want to see public offices held to account for their crimes against Indigenous people. I want to see politicians held to account for the legislation they put through which causes the suffering and leads to the suffering of Indigenous people," said journalism student James McCallum.

"Incarceration and brutality is the experience of the aboriginal people in this country and the response of government is the response of the people who are committing these atrocities. The royal commission set up with judges that are part of the power structure, that's part of the problem," added Haddad.

On Friday, the United Nation Human Rights High Commission called on Australia to give compensation to children abused in prison.

"We are shocked by the video footage that has emerged from Don Dale youth detention centre in the Northern Territory," the UN Human Rights office of High Commission said in a statement.

"We call on the authorities to identify those who committed abuses against the children and to hold them responsible for such acts [...] Compensation should also be provided."

Footage shows a teenage boy (R) allegedly being pushed by prison guards at a youth detention centre in the Northern Territory city of Darwin. [AFP]

The Commission also called on the Australian government to ratify the Optional Protocol to Convention Against Torture, which would allow independent investigators to regularly inspect detention facilities.

The Northern Territory's corrections minister was sacked just hours following the broadcast and on Wednesday the territory suspended the use of hoods and restraints on children. 

UN Special Rapporteur on Torture Juan Mendez said the use of hoods, restraints and teargas on Australian aboriginal children in youth detention centres by police could violate the UN treaty barring torture.

Footage from Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Four Corners programme shows a teenage boy hooded and strapped into a chair at a youth detention centre in the Northern Territory, released on July 26, 2016. [AFP]

The case highlights concern about the disproportionate numbers of aboriginal youth in custody, with indigenous leaders calling for politicians to deal with the wider issue of the treatment of Aborigines in Australia.

Aborigines comprise just three per cent of Australia's population but make up 27 per cent of those in prison and represent 94 per cent of the Northern Territory's juvenile inmates.

Australia's roughly 700,000 indigenous citizens track near the bottom of almost every economic and social indicator for the country's 23 million people.

TRTWorld and agencies