"Stop sending 10-year-olds to prison.”
That is the message 12-year-old Dujuan Hoosan, an Indigenous child from Australia’s Northern Territory, has conveyed to the Australian government during his address to the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva today.
Hoosan spoke to the council about Australia’s youth justice system and has advocated for the introduction of Indigenous-led education systems. He will also present to the Committee on the Rights of the Child this week before they hand down their evaluation of Australia.
"Adults never listen to kids — especially kids like me. But we have important things to say,” Dujuan said in a speech before he left for Geneva. “I am going to speak to the UN because our government is not listening. Maybe over there, they will.”
12-year-old Arrente and Garrwa boy Dujuan Hoosan will be one of the youngest people ever to give a speech to the @UN in Geneva, when he calls to raise Australia's age of criminality https://t.co/olU6WLaBZW#UNCRC— AusHumanRights (@AusHumanRights) September 11, 2019
Hoosan is the star of the new documentary In My Blood It Runs.
The documentary from filmmaker Maya Newell explores Hossan’s school struggles, the scrutiny he faced from welfare and police, and his fight to avoid being sent to prison. Efforts from family members to immerse Hoosan in traditional language, culture, and identity are also explored.
During his trip to Switzerland, Hoosan will also attend a screening of the documentary at the UN.
Throughout Australia, children as young as 10 can be charged and sent to prison.
These laws — considered one of the youngest ages of criminal responsibility globally — disproportionately impact Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. In July last year, figures showed 100% of children in detention in Australia’s Northern Territory were Indigenous.
Indigenous people represent just 2.8% of Australia’s 24 million-strong population.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, however, are 24 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous kids.
Hoosan’s message echoes calls from health and child rights activists to raise Australia’s age of criminality.
Shahleena Musk, a lawyer at Australia’s Human Rights Law Centre, says increasing the age from 10 to 14 will align Australia with international law and help reduce race inequality.
“These harsh and out of date laws are forcing too many Aboriginal kids into the quicksand of the criminal legal system,” Musk said. "Raising the age from 10 to 14 would make a world of difference to so many kids like Dujuan who really just needed a helping hand to get back on track.”
Musk said it was vital that the nation’s education system worked to encourage Indigenous children to stay in school.
The National Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell concurs, saying it is important to be aware of the relationship between school disengagement and the intervention of welfare authorities. According to Mitchell, allowing children to speak in their native language, teaching children about their culture, and having Indigenous teachers would make all the difference.
"School doesn’t keep Indigenous students strong and keep them learning," she told the ABC. "They learn a different set of perspectives of the world. Their cultural identity gives them incredible strength, and it's absolutely critical for young Indigenous people to get that as part of their education.”
"We need a much more agile educational system that recognizes the background and individual needs of these children to keep them engaged," she added.