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Australian efforts to tackle abuse of Aboriginal children raise alarm

BMJ 2007; 335 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.39353.571632.DB (Published 04 October 2007) Cite this as: BMJ 2007;335:691
  1. Melissa Sweet
  1. Sydney

    Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory (NT) are facing considerable changes to their lives, including loss of control of their lands and withheld welfare payments, as part of extensive new policies aimed at tackling the sexual abuse of children.

    The Australian government's “national emergency response” to an inquiry into the sexual abuse of indigenous children in the territory also involves widespread restrictions on alcohol, the abolition of a community employment scheme, and a ban on X rated pornography.

    The government initially also announced plans to conduct compulsory checks on the sexual health of Aboriginal children, but after an outcry from health and medical groups it is now organising optional general health checks.

    The intervention, announced on 21 June without consultation with indigenous or medical groups, was followed by the rushed passage in August of enacting legislation. It has provoked alarm among many indigenous and public health experts as well as human rights and legal groups.

    There is widespread support for some long overdue political attention to the problem of child abuse, which many reports have documented over the past 20 years. Some aspects of the intervention, including the provision of extra police and health services, are also generally supported.

    But many experts are concerned that overall the NT intervention, as it is called, may do more harm than good by undermining Aborigines' …

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