The 2020 Vernon Collins Oration was delivered by Zoom on Wednesday October 7th by Professor Elizabeth Elliott
The title that she spoke to was “Championing child rights amidst the chaos of COVID-19”.
Prof Elliott’s lecture focussed on disadvantaged children in many situations. She noted that governments around the world had accepted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children (CROC) but had not made necessary changes to laws in their own jurisdictions to ensure that they complied with the goals of the convention.
She spoke specifically about a number of issues. Amongst these was the problem in many countries, often affecting immigrant children, of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). This was not limited to girls coming from other countries but happened to many children even within our own region – she cited Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand as examples. In Australia it has been estimated that there might be as many as 50,000 affected women and girls. Not all these individuals had had procedures of this kind for religious reasons. Obviously cultural factors played a significant part.
Another group of disadvantaged children were those with rare diseases which were often inadequately diagnosed or treated by reason of their rarity. In Australia a group named “Rare Voices Australia” was trying to ameliorate this problem by advocating for health policy and a health care system that works for people living with rare diseases.
An important group of disadvantaged children were those affected by Fetal Alcohol Syndrome (now called Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder – FASD). This was more frequent in Indigenous communities and added to the problems / disadvantage that these communities faced for other reasons. Efforts to provide warnings about the issue and to place graphic labels on alcoholic beverages were opposed by the alcohol industry who had much influence on politicians and obstructed efforts to deal effectively with the problem.
Another very important group of extremely disadvantaged children were those who were held in detention facilities such as had existed on Christmas Island or Nauru. Again many politicians, even up to the level of cabinet ministers or the party leaders in some cases, had been so set on the policy of stopping the boats carrying refugees that they were prepared to ignore the harmful effects on these children whose position appeared to be hopeless with literally no possibility of regaining any real freedom or a safe environment in which to live, play and learn. Those in the media or elsewhere who tried to draw attention to these gross injustices were accused of fabricating their stories for political purposes.