National

Australia ranked on children's access to justice

Australia has performed well on a new global ranking of children's access to justice, but the organisation behind the ranking has raised questions over the rights of Indigenous and asylum-seeker children.

The Child Rights International Network, which works in research, policy and advocacy, ranked 197 countries on how effectively children can use the law to challenge violations of their rights.

Australia ranks 38 out of 197 countries on children's access to justice.
Australia ranks 38 out of 197 countries on children's access to justice. Photo: Kris Ubach, Quim Roser

The network says it was a first-ever global study on children's access to justice.

Belgium, Portugal and Spain were the top three, with Kenya the only country outside Europe to make the top  10. Tailing the list were Palestine, Eritrea and Equatorial Guinea.

Australia hovered near the top, ranked at 38 out of 197.

Australia performed well on the availability of legal aid to children, legal remedies, independent monitoring, group litigation and the standing of non-government organisations to bring cases to court.

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But the report found that an Australian child's right to be heard in all matters that affect them was only "partially guaranteed", and said the Convention on the Rights of the Child could offer "interpretive guidance only" in domestic courts.

The convention has not been incorporated into Australian law, and as the network notes, cannot be directly enforced.

Countries were scored based on a range of questions around these subjects.

"When we think of children and justice, the first image that comes to mind is usually one of [our] children breaking the law," CRIN's director Veronica Yates said.

"Rarely do we consider children and their right to use the legal system to protect their human rights or to seek redress when their rights have been violated."

But it was not all positives for Australia.

In the network's individual country report, it referred to the Committee on the Rights of the Child's "deep concerns" over Australia's treatment of asylum-seeking and refugee children.

It referred also to the committee's urging Australia to ensure immigration detention, if imposed, was subject to time limits and judicial review.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children faced "serious and widespread discrimination", including lack of access to basic services, the report said.

Indigenous children also faced over-representation in the justice system.

The ACT's commissioner for young people and children, Alasdair Roy, said overall most children do  OK most of the time in Australia.

"The areas where we're probably letting the side down a little bit would be ones which have been regularly reported in the media, which would be access to justice and services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people," he said.

But Mr Roy said what separated the ACT and Victoria from the rest of Australia was a human rights act, which afforded children some level of protection.

"We can shift the development of policies or programs or legislation as it's coming through, and make it more human rights compliant, that's a good thing.

He said ranking Australia against other countries was often difficult.

The federal parliamentary democracy meant it was sometimes harder for Australia than a single-government country to make certain changes, he said.