Advocacy Blog

What is our collective responsibility for children?

As Early Childhood educators and teachers, what is our collective responsibility for children? Australian children? Children born overseas? What about children locked in Australian-run immigration detention facilities on Nauru and Manus Island?

The Guardian reports today that Transfield, the company that has overseen shocking abuses of human rights in those facilities, is the Government’s “preferred tenderer” to oversee operations on Nauru and Manus for another five years.

It’s worth considering exactly what Transfield’s record has been, thanks to Ben Doherty in the Guardian:

Thirty-three asylum seekers on Nauru have alleged rape or sexual assault and a further five say they have been asked for sexual favours in return for contraband. Some of those allegations have been made against Transfield staff.

Transfield subcontractors, in particular Wilson Security, have been accused of a series of abuses, including handcuffing childrenspying on a senator when she visited the island on an official trip, assaulting asylum seekers who were handcuffed, and running a secretive solitary confinement facility on Manus.

The idea of Transfield continuing in its role in these facilities is monstrous. But for the children in these camps, it could be even worse.

Guardian Australia understands the announcement from the government means that Save the Children, which was providing welfare services for children and families on Nauru, will no longer operate on the island. That role will be taken over by Transfield.

There is plenty of evidence that Australia’s immigration detention facilities are abusing children. The idea that the “welfare services” currently operated by Save the Children will be handled by Transfield is chilling. This would be a catastrophic outcome for children.

The Government has worked this year to strip away rights for those imprisoned in this facilities, including provisions that would make it illegal to report instances of child harm within them. Replacing Save the Children with Transfield would entrench the secrecy and lack of accountability of these practices.

Putting it mildly, those of us who work in the ECEC sector are not the first to put their hands up when it comes to political battles. We’re staring down the barrel of a terrible Government reform package (for the details of which I direct you to the incredible writer Lisa Bryant), and even this has barely caused a titter in the sector.

But our roles are directly tied to the ongoing wellbeing of children. We should be Australian children’s first line of defence. When atrocities such as those on Nauru and Manus are allowed to continue, we should be the first to stand and say “not on our watch”.

It can be difficult to know where to start – and what to do. But there’s a couple of small things you can do soon.

By Liam McNicholas

I am an experienced early childhood teacher, writer and advocate. As well as managing community not-for-profit early childhood operations in a variety of roles, I have advocated for children's human rights; the need for investment in early childhood education; and for professional recognition and wages for those working in early childhood education and care.

I am available to be commissioned for freelance writing, editing, event speaking and consulting work.

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