The Indigenous People in Australia - Examination of Child Removal Policies from a Human Rights Perspective

University essay from Lunds universitet/Juridiska institutionen

Abstract: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, the Indigenous peoples of Australia, inhabited this continent thousands of years before the arrival of the Europeans. Prior to the arrival of the white man the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, hereafter referred to as the Aboriginals, practiced their own culture and applied their own laws without interference from external powers. Some scientists claim that the ancestry of the Aboriginals extends back over 60 000 years, under which time the ownership of the lands was undisputed. The situation radically changed when James Cook discovered the Australian continent and subsequently, in 1770, claimed possession of the whole east coast. The English' occupation of the Aboriginal lands was justified under the terra nullius doctrine, and it did not take long until the invaders controlled the whole continent. As a consequence, the Indigenous people had to leave their native lands. This had naturally enormous effects of the Aboriginal culture, particularly since the Aboriginal people have and always have had a special connection to their lands and everything natural. Separation of families, starvation, massacre, rape and disease prevented people from surviving and reproducing. Even those who did survive were deprived of their right to live within their culture and control their lives, since the non-indigenous interfered with their systems of law and their look upon welfare, education and land title. Of all the tragedies suffered by the Indigenous peoples of Australia, the greatest and most unforgivable wrong has probably been the removal of Indigenous children from their families and communities to be brought up in the non-indigenous community. Ever since the first days of colonization Indigenous children have been forcibly separated from their families and communities. In early colonial times many Aboriginal children were taken from their families to be used as cheap labour for the white settlers. However, these random child removals were later converted into systematic removals. As Indigenous peoples were seen as threats to the white settlements and were considered a shame of the nation the different states, and later the federation, introduced a number of policies with the aim to efficiently decrease the number of the Indigenous population. The process of removing children has primarily been affecting the Indigenous peoples from 1900's to 1960's but the effects of these child removal practices are clearly visible in contemporary society. The children were cut off from their culture and forced into a new way of thinking, which resulted in a loss of identity. They did not feel either white or black and were not entirely accepted in either the Aboriginal community or among the white people. They were simply a lost generation of children. These policies, today known as child removal policies, had an extremely harmful effect on overall Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal relations throughout the whole period of colonization. The systematic child removals have caused countless social problems, which affect Aboriginal society today and undoubtedly touch almost every Aboriginal person. It is impossible to estimate the number of children being removed with any precision, especially since many relevant documents are missing. However, it has been suggested that one out of seven Aboriginal children was removed from their families in the 20th century, as opposed to the approximate one in 300 white children removed. It has been claimed that at least one third of all children removed have still not been returned to their families and communities. It is likely that several thousands will never return at all. With these facts in mind it is not remarkable that the families affected by the child removal policies are referred to as a stolen generation. It was not until a couple of decades ago this systematic dispossession, slaughter, destruction and impoverishment of the Aboriginal people became an issue in Australia and internationally. The exposure of how the Australian authorities have treated the Aboriginal people has caused individuals and organizations to react and seek redress for the families, which were affected by the governmental removal policies. Today, the past and current situation of the Indigenous people in Australia is not only an issue being addressed by the Australian governments and organizations. Voices have been raised internationally, criticizing and condemning the Australian approach to Indigenous matters. The treatment of Aboriginals from the beginning of the colonization up until present day gives rise to questions regarding violations of both generic human rights instruments, which guarantee the minimum human rights protection of all peoples, as well as specific instruments, which exclusively give protection to specific groups, such as Indigenous Peoples. Australia has not only ratified a number of relevant instruments, but has also been very eager in developing such tools. A national Human Rights Commission, recently established by the Australian government, was given a mandate to oversee the domestic implementation of the treaties signed by Australia and monitors the observance of human rights. The Commission has so far dealt with more than 35 000 complaints of discrimination and human rights violations. This gives an idea of the prevailing situation in Australia. Today, the situation for the Aboriginals has improved, but there is still a lot to be done. The common aim is said to be reconciliation between the Indigenous and the non-indigenous population, but there are many obstacles, a major being Australia's stand-point in issues relating to the stolen generation.

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