SAME-SEX MARRIAGE: by Tim CannonNews Weekly
Are we about to create another Stolen Generation?
, November 28, 2009
Few issues spark blood-boiling outrage, both public and private, quite like the issue of child abuse. Defenceless, innocent and totally dependent, children are a living, breathing reminder that, as adults, we are burdened with certain fundamental responsibilities. We are their providers, their defenders, their role models. Where we fail, they suffer. Where we fail out of indifference or neglect, we are accountable for that suffering.
Perhaps the most violent outrage is reserved for those who make use of a special position of trust and responsibility to abuse children. In this regard, ministers of religion and teachers find themselves especially reviled, and deservedly so. Equally susceptible to public disdain are those who stand by, aware of the abuse, but do nothing - those who could have intervened and spared a child a lifetime of damage and pain, but chose not to.
If the public response to crimes of child abuse is thus steeped in fury, it is difficult even to imagine how one scarred by such abuse might feel as he or she carries childhood wounds into the adult world.
In his first term in office, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has led, with the support of all Australian political parties, two apologies to children who have suffered abuse in Australia's recent history. The first, in February 2008, was an apology to Australia's indigenous population, and in particular to the "stolen generations".
While some may baulk at the veracity of claims that children were removed from their families in the absence of real and pressing concern for their safety, there can be no disputing the underlying principle that children have the right to be raised by their own biological families, and to grow up in the context of that family as far as is possible.
More importantly, no one has the right to remove children from their families, and their biological and cultural heritage, except to preserve the child's safety. To arbitrarily remove a child from his or her parents is to act in complete disregard for the child's rights and best interests, and inflicts grave harm upon the child.
This week, Prime Minister Rudd tendered a second apology, this time to the "Forgotten Australians". The website for the Alliance for Forgotten Australians identifies the group as comprising "the survivors of the roughly 500,000 children who found themselves in orphanages or Homes in the 20th century, between 1930 and 1970" (www.forgottenaustralians.org.au).
The website outlines the wide range of abuses suffered by this group at the hands of their institutional carers, including neglect, exploitation, brutality, sexual assault, poor health care and poor education. It also draws particular attention to the pain and harm caused by the separation of children from their families.Loss of identity
As the Alliance notes, one of the consequences that Forgotten Australians suffered - and continue to suffer - as a result of their being removed from their families was a loss of identity. Whether through incompetence, indifference, malice or otherwise, personal and family information about the institutionalised children was not deemed worthy of preservation. Perhaps it was assumed that such information wasn't necessary for the children's well-being. Perhaps nobody realised how important identity is.
Looking back on grave injustices such as these can be positively baffling: how could people be so blind? And it would be nice to think that we have learned from our mistakes; that today we know better than to trample all over children's rights with cold indifference.
It would be nice. But unfortunately our habit of ignoring children's rights continues.
Just last week, appearing before a Senate committee inquiry into same-sex marriage, I raised the issue of IVF and donor conception. I pointed out to the committee that same-sex marriage would encourage, and indeed normalise, instances of children being conceived by one biological couple, but being forever after removed from one or both of their biological parents, to be raised by the "commissioning" couple. That, in the wake of the fallout experienced by the Stolen Generations, it could hardly be clearer that removing children from their biological families is a grave contravention of the child's rights.
In light of Prime Minister Rudd's apology to the Forgotten Australians, I might also have pointed out that donor-conceived children are already giving voice to the pain, the sense of loss, and the sense of abandonment that comes with the territory when, as a donor-conceived child, your biological parents are strangers, and you have no sense of your biological family and cultural history.
I might have told them of donor-conceived children walking the streets searching for their siblings' faces among the crowds.
I might have told the committee any number of things. For some members, like Liberal Senator Guy Barnett, the lessons have been learned and taken to heart. For Senators like Mr Barnett, children's rights will no longer be trumped by adult whimsy or indifference.
But for others, blindness to children's rights continues unashamed and unabated. In fact, when I raised the issue of children's rights, the response of the committee's chair, Labor Senator Trish Crossin, was curt and clear: "We have been over that ground and we have had legislation through the parliament that reflects the view of this government."
Perhaps a future Australian parliament will look back on Senator Crossin's cold indifference to children's rights, and, shaking its head in astonishment, apologise to the generations of donor-conceived children who were torn from their families while we stood by and watched.Tim Cannon works as a research officer with the Australian Family Association.