Australia should ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) as soon as possible to ensure better oversight of youth justice detention, according to National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell.
The key findings of an investigation into the oversight of youth justice detention in Australia are included in Commissioner Mitchell’s Children’s Rights Report 2016, tabled today in Federal Parliament.
The report calls for all jurisdictions to review how their existing systems of monitoring and inspection meet the criteria under OPCAT and to amend their laws and policies. The recommendations in the report are underpinned by direct consultation with children and young people residing in detention facilities.
“Children and young people in youth justice detention don’t always know that they have the right to access the basic things they need,” said Commissioner Mitchell.
“When we were confronted by shocking CCTV footage of children being mistreated in Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin and other centres around Australia, many in the Australian community have asked: why is this happening in twenty-first century Australia? Given it was known about by public officials, with at least one published report detailing the incidents, why was nothing done?”
Commissioner Mitchell noted that ratifying and implementing OPCAT would be a significant step towards protecting the human rights of people in all forms of detention in Australia.
“It has been 7 years since Australia signed OPCAT, but we are still waiting for ratification,” said Commissioner Mitchell.
“I can only wonder whether incidents like those at the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre would have been prevented had the oversight mechanisms of the OPCAT been in place.”
Commissioner Mitchell has also called for an end to mandatory sentencing for children and young people and for children to be separated from adults in detention, in line with the requirements of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“There are a few key areas where Australia lags behind the international standards set under the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said Commissioner Mitchell.
“In the report tabled today, I recommend that the age of criminal responsibility to be raised from 10 years to 12 years, in line with the minimum international standard set by the Committee on the Rights of the Child.
“Many children involved in the criminal justice system come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have complex needs that are better addressed outside the criminal justice system. Raising the minimum age would also help decrease the rate of overrepresentation of Indigenous children in prison.
“We need to consider how we balance the need for children and young people to see that their actions have consequences while also breaking the cycle of imprisonment in disadvantaged communities.”
Media invitation: Media are invited to attend the launch of the Children’s Rights Report 2016 at 9.30am for a 10.00am start on Friday 2 December at the Australian Human Rights Commission, Level 3, 175 Pitt Street, Sydney.
Media contact: Georgia Flynn – 0430 366 529 or firstname.lastname@example.org.