Sat, Jun 16, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Alcohol blamed for Aboriginal child abuse

OFTEN UNREPORTED A government-commissioned study concluded that sexual abuse was occurring in all 45 communities it surveyed in the Northern Territory

AFP , SYDNEY

Child sexual abuse fueled by rampant alcoholism was widespread in Aboriginal communities across Australia's vast Northern Territory, a report said yesterday.

The government-commissioned inquiry said that urgent action was needed to address the child abuse problem, which often went unreported but had scarred generations of indigenous youngsters.

Inquiry co-author Pat Anderson, a prominent Aboriginal health specialist, said there was a strong link between alcohol abuse, violence and child sexual abuse in indigenous communities.

"A river of grog is killing people and destroying our communities," she said. "Spiritually, socially, psychologically, there is a total breakdown in families where people are drunk most of the time -- the children are not safe."

The report's authors, Anderson and lawyer Rex Wild, visited 45 communities in the Northern Territory, which has one of the highest concentrations of Aborigines in Australia, and found problems with child abuse in all of them.

Wild said the high levels of abuse uncovered in the Northern Territory were probably reflected in indigenous communities across Australia and contributed to the cycle of poverty and despair in which many Aborigines found themselves.

He said the problem related to serious social problems among Aborigines dating back to the early days of European colonization in Australia.

"This is a problem that has developed over 200 years and it has gotten worse and worse," he said. "I don't think governments ... have been aware of the depth of the problem."

The Northern Territory government commissioned the report last year after a series of allegations surfaced about sexual abuse of children in impoverished and often overcrowded camps where most Aborigines live.

They included reports that children as young as five had contracted sexually transmitted diseases and that girls were being prostituted for petrol, a substance commonly sniffed by youths in Aboriginal communities.

The 316-page report found children in the camps were often exposed to pornography at a young age then with each other imitated what they had seen.

It also said young Aboriginal children were falling prey to both indigenous and non-indigenous adults.

The report described victims and social workers breaking down as they detailed conditions in the camps.

The report said there were no quick fix solutions, making 97 recommendations to address the problem, including improved education services.

"Getting children to school is essential because they are safe while at school, education provides a way to escape the social and economic problems that contribute to violence, and children can confide in their teachers when they are at school."

Other recommendations include campaigns outlining the impact of pornography, alcohol and gambling on communities, greater cooperation with the police and appointing a children's commissioner to look out for young people.

There are about 470,000 Aborigines in Australia's 20 million population. They are the country's most impoverished community, with life expectancy more than 17 years lower than their compatriots and higher rates of heart disease, infant mortality and domestic violence.

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