Abused orphans take fight for justice to UN
Reid Sexton and Barney Zwartz
6th August 2012
6th August 2012
ORPHANS abused in state care in Australia are taking their complaints to the United Nations Committee against Torture, hoping it will recommend better compensation and understanding.
Leonie Sheedy, Executive Officer of the Care Leavers Australia Network, will leave for New York on Thursday to tell the UN that children in state institutions suffered physical, mental and sexual torture, and that Australian governments did not protect them. Nor had governments properly investigated the claims or provided redress, she said.
Ms Sheedy said a Victorian parliamentary inquiry into abuse by religious and other non-government organisations would not investigate abuse of state wards, which would deny justice to thousands.
She said the 17 state-run orphanages that operated in Victoria last century, including the Royal Park Depot and Turana in Parkville, would escape scrutiny.
It was impossible to know how many children were abused in state care before some improvements began in the 1970s, she said, but the figure would number in the thousands.
To win compensation victims faced an uphill battle, which involved tracking down evidence from decades earlier and signing confidentiality agreements.
''The orphanages were primitive and run like military organisations … with not enough staff and the staff didn't know how to look after children,'' she said.
''There was physical abuse, neglect and psychological abuse, not just sexual abuse … there is more than one way to harm a child.
''We think this is discriminatory and the government don't want to acknowledge other crimes that were committed on their own turf and they don't want to be accountable … I feel we're society's throwaway children; no one cares about what happened to [us].''
Ms Sheedy has previously welcomed the inquiry but said it would be unjust if it proceeded without the input of orphans in state care.
She said including such victims would give them the opportunity to have their stories told as well as acknowledgement that the government did not carry out its duty of care and improve the chances of compensation.
A spokesman for Attorney-General Robert Clark said the government started the inquiry following a recommendation last year from the ground-breaking Cummins inquiry, which did not recommend an inquiry into children in government care.
He said the government has apologised to those who suffered in care and provided $2 million each year to help victims deal with their trauma.