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  • UN told of allegations of torture in Australia’s child welfare system

    Submission to UN details electric shocks, sexual and physical abuse, malnourishment and forced labour of children in orphanages and other Australian institutions
    Box Hill Boys’ Home
    A submission to the UN includes an account of electric shocks being used as punishment at Victoria’s Box Hill Boys’ Home. Photograph: Care Leavers of Australia Network
    Allegations of electric shocks and other forms of torture in orphanages and foster homes within Australia’s child welfare system have been detailed in a submission to the United Nations.
    Care Leavers Australia Network (Clan) will send a delegation to meet with the UN committee against torture in Geneva next week after submitting a report into the torture, sexual and physical abuse, malnourishment and forced labour of children in orphanages, foster homes, children homes and other institutions over the past century.
    The submission alleges belts, straps, horse whips, canes, switches, wet towels, keys, fists, pieces of wood and even rosary beads were used as weapons against children. The most recent allegations are from the late 1990s.
    “Another way of punishing children was to physically torture them. This differed to blatant corporal punishment and assault. Instead it was often designed to slowly cause intense pain or injury,” the submission says.
    “For example, there have been some accounts of children being made to walk from post to post in the blazing hot sun with bare feet, not only to tire them out but to cause severe sunburn and blisters which would leave them in pain for days. As a result, many [of those affected] now suffer from skin cancer.
    “In some orphanages and homes children were made to cut large sections of grass using basic stationery scissors, causing them to break down psychologically and physically.”
    The submission has dozens of first-hand accounts from children detailing their suffering in Australia’s welfare system.
    An account from a Clan member who was at the W R Black Home for Girls in Queensland describes the punishment for wetting the bed: “We had to go to the matron’s room and tell her. She would pull us back to our bed by our hair, rub our nose in the wet sheet, flog us, make us stand to have our meals.
    “After dinner we had to stand facing the wall with our arms straight above our head. When our arms drooped she would hit them with a ruler or a cane … we also had our mattress taken away for several nights. We had to sleep on the bare wire base (summer and winter) with only a pillow and a blanket. She would get us up to the toilet and keep hitting us saying ‘do it, do it’.”
    The report says there are also accounts of electric shocks being used in homes as a form of punishment and cites in particular a testimony from a man who grew up in the Box Hill Boys’ Home in Victoria.
    “[A carer] used to make a group of us boys stand around and hold hands and he would attach an electric current to us. He would keep turning the current up. Not only was this extremely painful, but we were also scared stiff that he would go too far and we would die of electrocution. There was no point in saying no. Any protest would just be met with a bashing.”
    Another care leaver says in the report that it would be called torture by the international community if it had happened in a war prisoner’s camp.
    Clan has fought for a national reparations scheme for years to help children abused in the system and to also reimburse children who were used as unpaid labour in some of the homes.
    The advocacy group has assisted care leavers in coming forward with evidence to the royal commission into institutional responses to child sexual abuse. Clan represents thousands of former residents of homes and orphanages, many of which have been examined by the royal commission and found to have been places of horrendous abuse over decades.
    The rape and malnourishment of children in care have also been detailed to the UN with accounts of children being forced to eat their own vomit if they threw up after eating the rotting food which was given them.
    “Furthermore whilst many children recall eating horrendous food, they also recall seeing those who worked in the homes enjoy food they would have deemed a luxury,” the report says.
    It cites an account from a care leaver of what staff at their home ate: “Staff took their meals at the same time and sat at tables covered with crisp white starched tablecloths and napkins, silver cutlery and serviette rings. We would sit and drool at their food. They had chicken, meat, bacon and eggs, toast with real butter, scones with fresh cream and jam.”
    Clan have been engaged with the UN’s committee against torture for years and will travel to Geneva next week for further talks on the submission.

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