Children are at the centre of any society and deserve our unwavering protection. It is no accident that the Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most ratified human rights treaty in the world. This week we have been inundated with evidence of failing in this endeavour.
We have learned that a child has died every hour in Gaza for the last two days, a situation that has prompted a group of doctors to publish an open letter in the Lancet condemning the onslaught against civilians.
We heard of children lost on MH17 in senseless act of military aggression.
Both tragedies remind us of the value and facility of every human life.
The AIDS conference here in Melbourne has reminded us how hard and how successfully we can fight public health issues, yet even here we learn that children still suffer stigma and discrimination. Globally 700 children a day become infected with HIV. Only one quarter of those infected have access to treatment.
We were also reminded of the children Australia wants to forget. Professor Gillian Triggs of the Human Rights Commission, reports that the situation for women and children in detention on Christmas Island has deteriorated further. There are 174 children on Christmas Island. Babies are missing development milestones without space to learn to crawl and many children suffer asthma or eye irritation from the dust.
Professor Elizabeth Elliott (paediatrician) stated: “Christmas Island is no place for infants and young children. Most were ill with chest or gut infections – “One of the mothers, herself under 24 hour suicide watch reportedly said “I don’t want a visa. I just want somewhere safe and clean for my child.”
And then there is the statistic that breaks my heart – in a 15 month period to March 2014, 128 children have self harmed. Let me repeat that ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY EIGHT CHILDREN HAVE SELF-HARMED.
In a week of tragic loss of human life in the warzones of eastern Ukraine and Gaza, what is our excuse for such blatant disregard for the mistreatment of those we can protect. Is wanting somewhere safe and clean for your child so much to ask?
How do we shy away from the most vulnerable on our doorstep and let children suffer behind fences in a time of peace and prosperity?
I hope the health community will continue to raise its voice as it has in the past. I also humbly remind our politicians that the CRC we have ratified states:
In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.
It is long past time we as a nation said “enough” and moved children from detention centres. I live in fear of the day I will be writing about the first child that died in detention.
You can read the full story from the Human Rights Commission here.