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So what's this report about?
The first annual Child Rights Report by the Queensland Family and Child Commission (QFCC) is a detailed overview of how children's rights are being protected in Queensland. It shows that while some children are safe and well-supported, many others are facing problems that threaten their rights. These problems come from things like unfair opportunities, laws that don't do enough, not enough resources, and not paying attention to what children need and think. The report's goal is to inform the Queensland Government about how well they are following the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and to suggest improvements for keeping children safe, happy and healthy.
A child rights-based approach is really important. It means that every child should enjoy the rights listed in the UNCRC. This approach focuses on some important ideas, like treating all children fairly, making sure their best interests are taken into account, making sure they have a chance to live, grow, and be heard. It also means giving children the power to stand up for their rights and helping adults understand their responsibilities.
To write this report, we talked to people in the government, as well as organisations that work with children and young people. We also listened to what children and young people had to say. We looked at a lot of data and used all of this information to decide what issues were most important. We also took into account what the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended before. While Queensland has made some progress, like making human rights laws, supporting First Nations people, and addressing gender-based violence, there is still a lot of work to do.
To make sure children's rights are protected, we suggest a few things. First, we recommend creating a detailed plan just for children in Queensland. This plan would help make sure their rights are respected and protected. We also think it's important to regularly check how government decisions and budgets affect children's rights. We should also make it easier for children to make complaints if their rights are being ignored. And we need to have programs that teach people about children's rights and how to keep children safe.
There are also some urgent issues that need attention. One of them is the way children and young people are treated in the youth justice system. We need to make sure it follows the UNCRC and doesn't unfairly target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. We also need to pay attention to environmental issues and climate change because they affect children's rights too. We should gather better information about violence against children and make sure that permanency decisions about where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children live are checked independently. We should also make sure children and young people can be involved in decisions that affect them and that services for children with disabilities are improved. Lastly, we need to make sure that all children have equal opportunities when it comes to housing, healthcare, mental health services and education.
This report takes a detailed look at how children's rights are being protected in Queensland. It shows what progress has been made and what still needs to be done. It's meant to help people who make decisions, professionals, and anyone else who cares about the rights of children and young people.
Article 37 of the UNCRC says when a child is arrested, put in detention, or held by the police, it should only happen when there's no other option left. When children and young people do break the law, they shouldn't be treated in a cruel way. They shouldn't be put in a prison where there are adults, and they should be allowed to stay in touch with their family. And if a child is accused of doing something against the law, they have the right to get legal help and be treated fairly (Article 40 of the UNCRC).
- Investing in programs called diversion programs, which are designed to guide children and young people away from getting involved in criminal activities. They've also invested in special programs called On Country programs, which help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people connect with their culture and communities.
- The government has made laws to create teams of different agencies working together to help children and young people who are at high risk of getting into trouble. These teams are called Multi-Agency Collaborative Panels. Their role is to make sure that these children and young people get all the support they need so they don't end up in more trouble.
- It's important that we quickly fix a law called the Strengthening Community Safety Act 2023 because it doesn't match up with the principles of human rights.
- We should increase the minimum age at which someone can be held responsible for breaking the law to 14 years old. This means that younger children will get the help they need and not be put in jail.
- There are too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in the youth justice system in Queensland. We should be working harder to change that.
- We should make it easier for children and young people in the youth justice system to get access to things like sports, education, help for disabilities, and support for mental health. These things are important for their wellbeing.
- We need to talk about and fix the problem of putting children and young people in isolation while they’re in jail. Children and young people shouldn’t be treated this way – we need to find better solutions.
- Instead of keeping children and young people in places called watchhouses, we should look for other ways to take care of them when they're in trouble. Watchhouses are for adults are not the right place for children and young people.
- When children and young people finish their time in jail, we should provide them with more help and support as they transition back into their normal lives. This will make it easier for them to adjust.
- Children and young people should have a say in decisions that affect them. We should make sure they can be part of the discussions and have a voice in making choices even if they have been in trouble.
- It's important that children and young people know about their rights and how to speak up if something isn't right. They should have more information and be able to make complaints if they need to.
- Every day in Queensland, about 275 children and young people are held in jail.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are more than 21 times more likely to be in youth detention compared to those who are not Indigenous. This means they're overrepresented and it's something we need to change.
- Children as young as 10 years old who are being put in jail and held responsible for breaking the law in Queensland. In some other places like the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, Tasmania, and the Northern Territory, they have already started to raise the minimum age to at least 12 years old, and some have even raised it to 14 years old.
Making children’s rights real
Article 4 of the UNCRC says that governments have a big responsibility when it comes to protecting the rights of children and young people. They have to do everything they can to make sure these rights are actually put into action. It's not just about having rights on paper but making sure they are respected and followed in real life. One of the things governments should do is make sure that children and young people know about their rights. They should provide information and resources to help children and young people understand what they're entitled to. It's also crucial that adults, like parents and teachers, know about these rights too so they can support and respect them.
- Queensland has made an important law called the Queensland Human Rights Act 2019. This law is all about protecting and respecting the rights of people living in Queensland, including children and young people. It's a way to make sure that everyone's rights are recognised and upheld.
- Queensland has also shown a positive commitment to First Nations people. They passed a law called the Path to Treaty Act 2023. This law is a step towards recognising and respecting the rights and cultures of First Nations people. It's an important way to promote understanding and work towards fair and equal relationships.
- Queensland should create a special plan just for children called the Children's Plan. This plan should cover all the important things that children need, and it should also have a budget to make sure these things can be provided. It's like a big roadmap to help make Queensland a better place for children and young people.
- When adults make decisions that affect children and young people, it's really important that they listen to what children and young people have to say. Queensland should make it a clear rule that children's opinions and ideas must be considered in these decision-making processes. Children and young people should have a voice and be part of the discussions.
- Sometimes, children and young people face barriers when they feel things are not right and want to complain about something or when they feel their rights are being violated. Queensland should identify and address these barriers, and they should also talk to the Australian Government about ratifying something called the 3rd Optional Protocol to the UNCRC. This would allow children and young people to directly bring their complaints to a special committee in the United Nations. It's a way to make sure their voices are heard on an international level.
- Queensland should create special programs to educate children and young people about their rights. These programs should be fun, engaging, and easy to understand. They should be designed for different age groups and should help children and young people feel empowered and confident in understanding and standing up for their rights.
- Queensland was the third place in Australia to create a Human Rights Act. The Australian Capital Territory and Victoria were the first two.
- A survey conducted by the QFCC found that only 35% of adults in Queensland claimed to have a good understanding of the UNCRC.
- The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) is a global agreement that outlines the rights of Indigenous peoples all around the world. Australia approved this declaration in 2009.
- The UNDRIP and UNCRC have similar goals and principles. They work together to protect and promote the rights and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people.
- In Queensland, around 8% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people spoke an Indigenous language in 2021.
- The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has recently released a General Comment No. 26 called children’s rights in relation to environmental issues, specifically climate change. This document emphasises the importance of protecting children's wellbeing in the face of environmental challenges.
Civil rights and freedoms
Every child and young person has the right to have a name and a nationality from the moment they are born. This means they should be given a name and their country should recognise them as a citizen (Article 7, UNCRC). Children and young people also have the right to have their own identity. This includes things like their name, nationality, race, culture, religion, language, appearance, abilities, gender identity, and sexual orientation. It's all about who they are as individuals (Article 8, UNCRC).
Children and young people have the right to express themselves freely. They can share their thoughts and ideas, and they also have the right to seek information about themselves (Article 13, UNCRC). The UNCRC guarantees that children and young people can choose their own religion, and they also have the right to think and believe what they want (Article 14, UNCRC).
Children and young people have the right to get reliable information, including from the media. But it's also important that they are protected from media that could be harmful to them (Article 17, UNCRC). It's important that children and young people with disabilities can access media too. Media should be available in formats that they can understand and use, so everyone can enjoy and benefit from it.
- The Queensland Government passed a law called the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2023. This law ensures that a person's legal identity, like their name and gender, matches with their true identity as they live it. It's about making sure that everyone's identity is respected and recognised.
- There is also a review happening in Queensland to create a framework for non-state schools. It is being done to make sure that all students in Queensland have a high-quality, safe and supportive school environment where they can thrive, and that families have the choice to pick a school that best suits their needs.
- Queensland should keep working on their commitment to the Closing the Registration Gap Strategy Plan. This plan helps make sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are registered when they are born.
- Children and young people should have a say in decisions about digital rights. This means they should be involved in discussions about how technology is used and how it affects them.
- Children and young people should have access to information that is easy for them to understand and that is balanced and fair. This information should come from different sources, like social media and traditional media. It's important to make sure that all kids, including those in rural or remote areas, with disabilities, or who speak languages other than English, can easily get the information they need.
- In 2019, only 62% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children had their births registered within 60 days of birth, while 90% of non-Indigenous births were registered within the same timeframe.
- In 2023, the Queensland Government passed a law called the Births, Deaths and Marriages Registration Act 2023. This law makes sure that a person's legal identity matches their true identity. It means that transgender and gender diverse people no longer have to undergo surgery to change their legal gender. The new law allows both parents to be registered as 'mother', 'father', or 'parent', which wasn't allowed before.
- The United Nations have written a General Comment No. 25 (2021) on children’s rights in relation to the digital environment. The document highlights that children have rights to privacy, freedom of expression, access to information, and protection from harm in the digital environment. It also recognises that digital technologies can bring benefits to children's development and participation. It's all about making sure that children can enjoy the good things that digital technologies offer while being protected from any harm.
Violence against children
Governments have a big responsibility to protect children and young people from harm. This means they need to take action to keep children and young people safe and make sure they are well taken care of (Articles 19 and 34, UNCRC). If a child or young person experiences violence or abuse, it's crucial that they have the opportunity to recover and feel better about themselves. They should get the help and support they need to heal from any harm they've suffered (Article 39, UNCRC). The UNCRC also says that governments should work to stop harmful traditional practices that can hurt children's health. Instead, they should promote practices that are good for children's overall wellbeing and keep them safe (Article 24(3), UNCRC).
- Queensland has taken steps to address gender-based violence and support victims through the Women's Safety and Justice Taskforce. This work was important in listening to the experiences of children and young people who are victims, and make sure their needs are met.
- The Respectful Relationships program in Queensland schools promotes equality and respect between genders. Children and young people are involved in shaping and delivering this program, building on the progress that has been made.
- To keep children safe, we need to implement and follow child safe standards across all services and organisations. This includes having a system to report any inappropriate behaviour. These measures will help monitor compliance and ensure the wellbeing of children.
- Children who have experienced neglect, exploitation, or abuse should receive support to help them recover and reintegrate into their lives. This is especially important for children in out-of-home care.
- Efforts to prevent and address bullying, including online bullying, need to continue in schools. Collaboration between Queensland's education systems and the eSafety Commissioner is crucial. We must pay special attention to supporting child victims, including LGBTQIA+ children and young people.
- In 2021-22, there were 19,600 Domestic and Family Violence orders made by the courts where a child was involved.
- Child Safety received 32,000 notifications about children in need of help in 2021-22.
- In 2021-22, girls and young women aged 10-19 accounted for 42% of all victims of sexual assaults in Queensland. Girls and young women in this age group are nine times more likely to be victims of sexual offenses compared to boys their age.
Governments have an important job to protect and support families in raising children and young people. They need to respect the rights and responsibilities of parents while keeping children and young people safe (Article 5, UNCRC). It's crucial to avoid separating children and young people from their parents, except when it's necessary to keep them safe. Children and young people have the right to stay in contact with both parents and be reunited with them, unless it's not good for the child (Article 9, UNCRC). Both parents are responsible for raising children and young people, and governments should help parents make decisions that are best for their children (Article 18, UNCRC). If children and young people can't be with their own families, it's really important that they are placed with caregivers who respect their beliefs, culture, and language (Article 20, UNCRC). We should regularly check on these children and young people to make sure they are being well cared for (Article 25, UNCRC). When it comes to adoption, the best interests of the child should always be considered first (Article 21, UNCRC).
- The Queensland Government has passed an act called the Child Protection Reform and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2022 which is about making sure that children and young people, who can't live safely at home, have a say in decision making.
- Queensland has extended a support program for young people leaving care, which now continues until they are 21 years old, instead of 18 years.
- It's important to provide support to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled sector so they can lead and develop child protection responses that are appropriate for children, young people and families.
- We should expand the way decisions are made about Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children's safety (this is called delegated authority) to more places in Queensland, meaning that decisions can be made closer to the communities where children and young people live.
- It's necessary to create an independent group to watch over and review decisions about permanency, specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people. This group should make sure that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Child Placement Principle is being followed, which means the best interests of children and young people are taken into account and their cultural connections are respected.
Disability, health and welfare
Children and young people have the right to live and grow up happily (Article 6, UNCRC). Children and young people with disabilities also have the right to a good life and the same opportunities as others (Article 23, UNCRC). All children and young people should have access to things that keep them healthy, like good healthcare, clean water, and nutritious food. They should also live in a clean environment (Article 24, UNCRC). If families can't afford these things, they should get help and support (Article 26, UNCRC). Children and young people have the right to live in a way that meets their physical and mental needs, with things like a safe place to live, good food, and healthcare (Article 27, UNCRC). It's important to protect children and young people from dangerous drugs. We should take different steps, like making laws, providing education, and supporting them (Article 33, UNCRC).
- Making Tracks Together is a plan that focuses on improving the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people. It aims to reduce the difference in life expectancy and make sure they have better health outcomes.
- Towards Ending Homelessness for Young Queenslanders is working to address the issue of high homelessness rates among young people.
- The Better Care Together plan is about improving mental health services for children and young people. It includes investments to address the causes of suicide and poor mental health. The goal is to make sure everyone can access the help they need, especially those who are at high risk.
- The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) needs to provide better support for children and young people, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people and those with disabilities in remote areas. It's important that every child and young person continues to get the help they need, even if they are in custody or care.
- The Making Healthy Happen program is aiming to address the problem of child obesity. It's important to continue these efforts by promoting healthier habits and making sure children and young people are growing up healthy.
- We need to improve our understanding of female genital mutilation/cutting in Queensland. It's important to raise awareness about this issue, encourage reporting, and provide support and healthcare to survivors.
- About 3,400 children under 12 years old experienced homelessness or lived in very crowded homes.
- In 2021, around 24% of people experiencing homelessness in Queensland were children and young people.
- Last year 27% of households with children experienced food insecurity, which means they didn't always have enough food.
- Kids Helpline received around 14,000 contacts from children and young people who needed help and support.
- 25% of children were overweight or obese, which not only impacts their health but also their mental health.
- Less than half of 5–17 year-olds were physically active for at least one hour a day, as recommended.
- Around 48,000 children under 14 years old accessed the NDIS, which provides support for people with disabilities.
Education and play
All children and young people have the right to go to school and get an education (Article 28, UNCRC). Education is important because it helps us develop our personality and talents to the fullest. It should also teach us to respect our parents, our cultures and other cultures around us (Article 29, UNCRC). But it's not just about studying all the time! Children also have the right to relax, play and have fun in different activities (Article 31, UNCRC).
- The Equity and Excellence strategy aims to make education better for all children and young people in early childhood, primary and secondary school state schools in Queensland.
- Queensland has made positive wins in children participating in kindergarten.
- We should make sure that children with disabilities are actively involved and supported in kindergarten and early childhood education. This means giving them the right help and making sure they are included.
- We need to work on Closing the Gap in education between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and other students. This means helping teachers understand their culture and history so they can better support them, especially in remote areas.
- It's important to create inclusive schools where all students feel welcome and supported. This means making sure students with disabilities have the right accommodations, resources, and support to succeed in their education.
- Some groups of students, like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, students with disabilities, and students in out-of-home care, are being excluded from school more often. We need to listen to what children, young people, their families and advocates are saying and do more to fix this issue.
- In 2022, 87% of children were enrolled in kindergarten, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, the rate was even higher at 95%.
- Children with disabilities can benefit a lot from going to kindergarten, but they are less likely to have access to these programs. In 2022, only 7% of children in kindergarten had a disability, even though they make up around 10% of the 4-5-year-old population in Queensland.
- Only 50% of the young people who took part in the Growing Up in Queensland survey (2020) felt like they belonged at school.
- About 78,000 students received disciplinary actions like suspensions or exclusions.
- Data from 2022 shows that 14% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, 15% of students with disabilities, and 25% of students in out-of-home care received one or more disciplinary actions.
- Every child has the right to relax, play and pursue their interests. The UN General Comment No. 17 explains how important it is for children to have a safe and stress-free environment where they can unwind and play. They should be free from social exclusion, prejudice, violence and physical dangers. Children need enough time and space to play freely without too much adult control. They should also have opportunities to explore the outdoors, connect with nature, animals, and their cultural heritage.
What happens next?
Queensland has made some progress in protecting the rights of children and young people, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We believe that a Children's Plan for Queensland is needed to make sure that children's rights are not just acknowledged but also put into action.
Learn more about your rights here.
You can also stay in touch and learn more about the stories, perspectives and ideas of young Queenslanders here.
Australia is required to report on how well it's meeting child rights every five years. The next report is due in 2024 to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. This is an important opportunity to assess our progress and show the efforts being made to protect children's rights in Queensland and across the country.