Tag Archives: Rights of the Child

A Charter of Rights to Childhood Records

A Charter of Rights to Childhood Records: Updated version

Following some very helpful, constructive comments on an early draft, this revised draft (3 March 2016) is posted with a further invitation to comment. It is also posted on the CLAN website.

We particularly welcome and value comment by Care Leavers, ‘Forgotten Australians’, people formerly placed in foster families, members of the Stolen Generation, former child migrants and people who were, as infants, arbitrarily taken from their mothers.

We will keep this draft open for a period of three months and, at the end of that time, a final draft version will be discussed by the CLAN Committee which will, after due discussion, consider its adoption as CLAN’s position.

PREAMBLE

Whereas:

  • Many Australian children, through no fault of their own, were placed in orphanages, children’s Homes, foster ‘care’ and other forms of institutions that replaced their homes and families and displaced them from ordinary community life; and
  • Many children left institutional ‘care’ angry, ashamed, confused about their identity and disconnected, often not understanding the reasons for their separation from family because no one explained their situation, wanting to re-connect with their families and communities wherever that was still possible, and carrying many unresolved burdens resulting from the physical, emotional and sexual abuse and neglect that were inflicted on them; and
  • Any records that were made and archived in those circumstances may represent the only documented account of the person’s time in such institutions; and
  • The historic reasons for creating, maintaining and archiving these childhood records are now, by the passage of time, redundant.

And recognising that the Australian government is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) which among other things:

  • Affirms that in all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration; and
  • Requires governments to respect a child’s right to know their parents and the right of the child to preserve his or her identity and family ties; and
  • Requires governments to respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis; and
  • Affirms the right of any child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment to special protection and assistance provided by the State; and
  • Affirms that no child shall be subjected to arbitrary or unlawful interference with his or her privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to unlawful attacks on his or her honour and reputation.

Therefore, in response to the contemporary needs of former institutionalised children and by ethical extension of the rights of the child to the adult the child has become, it is declared that:

  1. The historic records should now be held in archives principally in order to help the ‘subject’ person make meaning of the circumstances of their childhood; and/or to connect, if still possible, with family and community; and/or to seek redress and other remedial action for abuse or neglect, where relevant.
  2.  In all cases, every effort must be made by archivist, record-holders and support workers to expedite requests for access to personal records. Special consideration for expedited access to records should be given to the frail and elderly and those involved in litigation or redress claims.
  3. Under no circumstances should a request for records be influenced by consideration of any real or perceived conflict of interest in providing records.
  4. In some cases, the records have been lost, others are incomplete, and many are found to be inadequate for the above purposes. Therefore, in addition to historic personal files and case notes, archivists and other support personnel have a duty to search for and identify other archived records that are relevant to the person’s childhood experience to assist in providing a more complete narrative.
  5. Archivists and record holders must understand that many childhood records are partial; many contain statements that are inaccurate or filtered; and many include personal judgments or opinions and use language that is likely to be offensive. Archivists and records holders have a duty to inform the person of the right to challenge the records, and should encourage them to provide alternative relevant material.
  6. Record holders accept that they have a duty to assist the ‘subject’ person interpret the record with issues like historical context and technical terminology.
  7. The childhood records in relevant archives are ultimately the property of the person who is the subject of the records.
  8. The subject of the records (or, if deceased, that person’s closest living blood relative or by agreement another blood relative) has the right to determine who should have access to those records and the terms of that access.
  9. All agencies and organisations taking children into their custody must produce an official record comprising key documents including the child’s birth certificate, the names and last-known addresses of all members of the child’s family, any court orders or documents related to the reasons for the child’s placement, all medical and educational histories, the names of all people who visit the child during their time in custody, all documents related to transfers to other institutions including foster families and any other official documents that relate to the child’s time in ‘care’.
  10. All agencies and organisations taking children into their custody should encourage and help them to create over time a memory box or similar collection that includes such items as relevant photographs of people, events and places that are central to their time in ‘care’, objects of significance to their time in that facility and any personal or descriptive accounts written by the child.

Acknowledgements

Although they cannot be held responsible for the form of words in the draft, we acknowledge the significant contributions of members of CLAN; Dr Jacqui Wilson of Federation University; and Dr Joanne Evans and Professor Sue McKemmish of Monash University.

For more on this topic see: Whose file is it? Whose story is it? Here

The superpower that marches out of step

 

The UN convention on children’s rights (CRC) – now 25 years old – sets global standards for children’s education, health care, social services, penal laws, and protection from economic and sexual exploitation, violence and other forms of abuse and neglect and establishes the right of children to have a say in decisions that affect them.

Adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1989, CRC is one of the most widely adopted human-rights treaties. In January 2015, Somalia became the 195th nation to ratify it. 

Now the only nations not to ratify CRC are the recently created nation of South Sudan and the super-power, the USA. There is every indication that South Sudan will ratify later this year (more).

So the US will march out of step with the rest of the world.

The US signed CRC in 1995, but has never ratified it. When a country signs CRC, it endorses its principles; when it ratifies CRC it commits to be legally bound by it.

In the US, ratification is supported by more than 100 organisations including

  • American Bar Association
  • American Academy of Pediatrics
  • Child Welfare League of America
  • National Education Association
  • General Federation of Women’s Clubs
  • A number of national church bodies.

So, why the opposition?

For a country with a long record of hectoring other nations about abuse of rights – and sometimes intervening militarily to ‘put things right’ – it is surprising to find the depth of opposition to CRC in the USA. Without a level of bi-partisan support – treaties require a two-thirds majority of the Senate – there is little likelihood of the US joining the rest of the world in ratifying it in the foreseeable future.

Ratification is opposed by the Republican Party and its right-wing support base including

  • the Christian Coalition
  • the Family Research Council
  • Focus on the Family
  • the John Birch Society.

Right-wing groups oppose CRC for ideological reasons similar to their opposition to gun control laws.

CRC, they assert, would undermine precious freedoms especially the rights of parents (despite those rights being confirmed by CRC). They smell a conspiracy rat: CRC is designed to undermine parents on sex education and religious education, not to mention encouraging abortion and greater permissiveness.

Republicans also argue against the imposition of higher taxes to pay for additional resources to implement aspects of CRC. In the land of the free, one in every six children are free to live in abject poverty. America ranks very low on the league table of industrialised nations in child poverty, and its associated infant mortality and poor health. Many families can’t afford to seek medical help for their children (or themselves) even in acute cases.

Some conservatives argue that the US doesn’t need CRC. Its own laws protect children. That may be so in many respects, but:

  • If you are under 18 in the US, you can be jailed for life without parole. Until 2005, you could have been sentenced to death. The US ranks very high on the table of nations with children in gaol.
  • Although America has laws against child abuse, a third of US states allow corporal punishment in schools.
  • Not a single state bans corporal punishment in the home.
  • Exemptions in US child labor laws allow children as young as 12 to be put to work in agriculture for long hours and under dangerous conditions
  • A child in the US is killed by a gun every three hours.

If you are born into a poor family in the US, the one thing your family can’t do is gain succour from the world-wide convention on the rights of the child. The US is a foreign country: they do things differently over there.

 More to read here, and here.