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Child abuse by another name

By Patmalar Ambikapathy Thuraisingham - posted Monday, 9 July 2007

How do we make this an opportunity to properly address and reduce child abuse and prioritise the human rights of children in Australia?

I confess that I usually listen to music on ABC FM to soothe my soul, but occasionally to debrief, I vegetate in front of TV and luxuriate in cooking and lifestyle programs and avidly watch Oz soapies, where the characters are much more troubled by trivia than I am.

When I am really tired, paradoxically I stay awake to watch ABC Lateline, as TV has such a powerful soporific impact on my ability to stay awake. This means I have to really make an effort to watch Lateline. Aren’t little things pleasing to divert our serious thoughts?


Imagine the rude interruption to my late night reverie on June 21 (how can I ever forget that day), as I was relaxing after a really good day in court. My colleagues and I persuaded a magistrate to order separate independent, legal representation for a child who had just had her fifth birthday.

The court deemed she was mature enough to give instructions: it was a great human rights moment for little children, who are usually silenced by legal and other systems. This includes the arm of government that is charged with child welfare, because they opposed the application.

Some in government, have a persistent belief they have the monopoly when it comes to knowing what is best for a child, and that they are the best vehicle for transmitting what a child has expressed to the court. It is strange how a child’s independent legal representative can help a court to get a different perspective from a child.

When children are empowered to express independent views they can challenge the prevailing paradigm, so it is no wonder that striving for this right for children, which we as adults take for granted, has been a long hard road.

Imagine how all of us who have worked long years for and with children, often against systems, are reeling from the Prime Minister’s firmly announced plans of what he was going to do “for” the little children who are, and were, abused in the Northern Territory.

So now we have a new form of systems abuse of children - a political one to add to the list.


How can a PM that I did not vote for (no I am not a member of the Labor party), in one breath say what many of us in the electorate want to believe in our hearts, but to many of us also, his words look, feel and smell like a stunning blow against the rights of abused children?

Allow me to offer my jaded views that have been established after about 25 years of striving for the rights of abused children. We learned the bitter lesson early that there is more than one way to abuse a child: inaction is inexcusable, especially when many have cried out for help and we have not responded. But no amount of doing “something” is going save or salve a stricken conscience. Let other professionals speak the truth of what could be another betrayal:

The Australian Indigenous Doctors Association says that Aboriginal children are dying three times more often than non Aboriginal children: so why has this not been an emergency before now?

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About the Author

Patmalar Ambikapathy, BA ( Durham) Barrister ( London), M.Phil ( Cambridge), is a Barrister and Human Rights Consultant for Children.

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