Australia: Crack down on sexual abuse of Aboriginal children
Widespread sexual abuse of Aboriginal children is a national emergency, Prime Minister John Howard of Australia said Thursday as he announced sweeping measures to tighten controls over remote indigenous communities.
Howard said his government would ban alcohol in remote Aboriginal communities and impose strict new limits on welfare payments to try to ensure that Aboriginal children are safe from abuse and alcohol-related violence.
"This is a national emergency," Howard told Parliament. "We are dealing with a group of young Australians for whom the concept of childhood innocence has never been present. That is a sad and tragic event. Exceptional measures are required to deal with an exceptionally tragic situation."
Howard said the prohibitions would apply in the outback Northern Territory but urged state governments, over which he has less constitutional control, to match them across the entire country.
The intervention reversed a decade of allowing Aboriginal communities largely to govern themselves and comes a week after a new report found that child sexual abuse was widespread.
A "river of grog," or alcohol, was destroying indigenous society, according to the government-sanctioned report, "Little Children are Sacred."
It said sexual abuse by both black and white men of Aboriginal children, some as young as 3, often went unreported.
Aboriginal society is being destroyed by alcohol, which is the gravest threat to the safety of indigenous children in the outback Northern Territory, the report said. Alcohol often used as "a bartering tool" to procure children for sex, it said.
The 460,000 Aborigines make up about 2 percent of the 20 million Australians. They are consistently the most disadvantaged group, with far higher rates of unemployment, domestic violence and alcohol and drug abuse.
Alcohol causes the death of an Aborigine every 38 hours, with one in four of the deaths in the Northern Territory.
Howard said Thursday that his government would use its constitutional power to override Northern Territory laws.
Alcohol would be banned in Aboriginal communities for six months, while every Aboriginal child under the age of 16 would undergo a medical examination.
Extra police would be deployed and pornography outlawed, with computers searched for pornography.
At the same time, the government will demand that half of all welfare payments to parents in Aboriginal communities be spent on food and essential items, while school attendance will be linked to welfare support.
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