Indigenous children make up one in 15 kids in Australia, and half of all children in Australia’s youth detention centres. By locking away children and separating them from their families and communities, our governments are placing limits on children’s potential and traumatising them and causing life-long harm.The issue in depth
The Indigenous rights issue In Depth
Everything you need to know
“We launched our Community is Everything campaign in 2015 because we don’t want to see Indigenous kids locked up anymore,” explains Amnesty International Indigenous Rights Advisor Rodney Dillon.
“We want to see them living in happy, healthy communities, finishing school, getting good jobs and becoming community leaders.”
We know that putting kids in jail only makes matters worse. It should be a last resort but research by the Victorian government shows that Indigenous kids are much more likely to be charged by police, than cautioned and referred to a support program.
Magistrates in regional and rural areas have told us that too often, local Indigenous programs are not sufficiently funded to be part of the solution, which makes detention a far more likely option. Find out more in our Brighter Futures report.
To close the justice gap, the Australian Government must work with the states and territories and Indigenous organisations to reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in detention. This is our main campaign aim.
Our research highlights the compelling evidence that intervening early in the lives of disadvantaged kids to address the causes of offending helps improve their wellbeing and sets kids up to thrive. With your support we can make a difference to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in Australia.
In the words of Noongar Elder Eugene Eades, who we’ve worked closely with on the campaign: “The sky’s the limit if we work together”.
Read our reports to find out more:
- National: A brighter tomorrow
- Western Australia: There’s always a brighter future
- Queensland: Heads held high
- National: The Sky is the Limit
- National: Free to be kids National Plan of Action
Our new report reveals the devastating stories of families whose interaction with the justice system has had profound consequences.Full report here
Raise the Age: Kids Belong in Community finds that although the overall number of children in detention has fallen, this is not true for Indigenous children who are still grossly overrepresented in youth detention.
Amnesty International Indigenous Rights Advisor Rodney Dillon said that there was no need for delay in raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.
“We have the solutions – all the evidence shows that culturally appropriate, community-led justice reinvestment is a much more productive way to manage kids when they get into trouble.
“Condemning little kids as young as 10 to the justice system is not only a waste of money and time, but if precious young lives who deserve to be with their families, not in jail.”
This discrimination in the criminal justice system demonstrates how racism is firmly embedded across Australia.
According to the Amnesty International Australia Human Rights Barometer 2021, there is a limited awareness of the chasm in experience between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.
- 36% of Australians surveyed believed Indigenous Australians had fewer opportunities, 23% thought they had
more and 30% the same.
- However, 55% of those surveyed also agreed that Indigenous Australians were among the more vulnerable in society that needed greater protection of their rights.
- More than 70% of Australians believe freedom from discrimination and equal treatment before the law is one of the most important human rights.
Such findings reinforce the importance of the movement to Raise the Age, which advocates awareness of system injustices that continue to be perpetrated against Indigenous people in Australia.
Change the Record Coalition
Amnesty’s Indigenous rights work complements the huge amount of human rights advocacy that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and organisations are doing across Australia.Read More
We aim to safeguard the rights set out by the United Nations in the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which recognises the rights of Indigenous people and communities to control decisions affecting their own lives and futures.
That is the foundation of our Community is Everything campaign – with research and plans developed under the guidance of Indigenous community members.
We are working with Indigenous peak organisations and other NGOs, as part of the Change the Record coalition, to close the justice gap.
The two main goals of Change the Record are to:
- Close the gap in rates of imprisonment by 2040; and
- Cut the disproportionate rates of violence to at least close the gap by 2040 with priority strategies for women and children.
Change the Record is chaired by Indigenous experts in the justice space and draws on the combined expertise of Indigenous peak, community sector and human rights organisations. You can read our key principles for change here.
Other Indigenous justice issues that we work on include:
- Action to stop Indigenous deaths in custody
- The right to live on Aboriginal homelands
- The right to be free from racial discrimination
The Change the Record Coalition also calls on the Federal Government to adopt and report on this 8-point National Plan of Action to end the abuse and over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in prison.Close
Each Australian state and territory is responsible for its own law and justice policies, but it is our national government that is ultimately responsible for ensuring Australia protects the rights of Indigenous children. Together, we can hold them to account.Read More
Amnesty is highlighting state and territory laws and policies that violate the rights of children, like mandatory sentencing in Western Australia. We have already successfully fought for changes to the law in Queensland which restores the detention of children to a last resort and ensure children are not held in adult prisons.
However, our national government is ultimately responsible for ensuring Australia meets our obligations in protecting the rights of Indigenous children. Currently our national government is not holding state and territory governments to account for failing Indigenous children.
This is despite consistent recommendations, including from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Committee on the Rights of the Child and on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that the federal government take responsibility in addressing the justice gap.
The Federal Government can make a difference by setting targets to close the justice gap and finally taking responsibility for change. Justice targets are the first step in developing a long-term national plan to close the justice gap.Close
What we’re asking
We’re calling for our government to support more Indigenous-led solutions for kids and change laws for a fairer youth justice system. Over the next five years we’ll be working hard to make this an issue politicians can’t ignore.
To end the over-representation, Amnesty International is calling for:
More Indigenous-led solutions for kids
- Governments should adequately fund the hard-working Indigenous people and organisations already working to support children and families and prevent contact with the justice system.
- Judges should have adequate alternatives to detention available to them to work with and rehabilitate kids instead of locking them up.
A fairer youth justice system
Governments must address the faulty parts of our justice system by:
- Supporting children, families and communities to stay strong and together
- Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14
- Getting children who are not sentenced out of prison
- Adequately funding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled legal and other support services
- Ending abusive practices in prisons
- Setting targets to end the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in prison
- Improving collection and use of data
- Working through COAG to reform State and Territory laws that breach children’s rights
Kids in Watch Houses: Exposing the truth
Life for a kid in Brisbane’s adult watch house is not only frightening, and brutal, it also breaches domestic and international law.Learn More
Amnesty International has analysed hundreds of official government documents obtained through multiple Right To Information applications, revealing 2,655 breaches. We’re calling for our government to support more Indigenous-led solutions for kids and change laws for a fairer youth justice system. Explore the research.Close