The findings of a report into child sexual abuse in Aboriginal communities in Northern Territory, that talks of juvenile prostitution, rivers of grog, child sex in exchange of drugs, have shocked and sickened all Australians.
``It is a damning indictment of our failure to protect children,'' said Mal Brough, Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister. ``This is a national disgrace, it is a disaster and it is something that should never happen in this country.''
Brough was reacting to the report of the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse inquiry, established by the NT Government last August. According to the report, child sex is widespread and often unreported in Aboriginal communities, and victims are as young as a three year old.
The abuse of children was reported in every one of the 45 communities the inquiry commission visited. In its 316-page report, the inquiry blamed lack of education, alcoholism, and serious social problems for the abuse of children.
``If governments fail to work together a long-term plan to address the problem, the indigenous communities are facing a disaster,'' said Rex Wild, co-chairman of the inquiry. Pat Anderson, his fellow chairwoman, said: ``Our children are suffering from one end to the other.''
The report revealed of Aboriginal girls engaged in rampant informal sex trade with non-Aboriginal workers from a mining company for alcohol, cash and other goods in exchange for sex. In at least three other cases, the inquiry was told that young Aboriginal girls traded sex for drugs.
In one community children as young as six were regularly seen acting out sexual behavior in groups. One child was only three. According to the inquiry, overcrowded houses often exposed the children to sex and pornography.
The high rate of sexually transmitted infections in teenagers aged between 12 and 16, and a high rate of teenage pregnancy, could be attributed to the high rate of consensual sex between children, the report said.
``Teenagers no longer saw themselves as bound by the old values and many viewed the modern world as lawless,'' the report cited as the crux of the problem. Similarly, it also reported that the victims often became the perpetrators in future.
``It is shocking but not surprising,'' said Warren Mundine, who has worked with Aborigines before. Tougher policing and economic development could improve social life of Aborigines, he said. Even if the report did not mention about a pedophile ring, those working with the Aborigines for long suspect that pedophiles do exploit the children.
``Western Australia has spent $ 76 million for development of Aborigines in the last four years. The implementation could be slow. But it has to be pushed,'' said Sue Gordon, head of the federal Government's National Indigenous Council.
Waking up to the enormity of the problem, Northern Territory chief Minister Clare Martin said the report very clearly had said that not enough has been done to check the abuse of Aboriginal children and promised to implement recommendations of the report.
The inquiry has made 97 recommendations, like changes to the education system, tightening of pornography laws, immediate action to reduce alcohol consumption and more government support to Aboriginal communities.