Aboriginal children 'starving', welfare workers say

By Phil Mercer
BBC News, Sydney

Image caption,
The abuse of alcohol and drugs by parents is often blamed for malnutrition in the young

Welfare workers in Australia's Northern Territory have told an official inquiry that children are starving in some remote Aboriginal communities.

The disturbing new allegations of neglect have been presented to government-appointed investigators.

Child protection teams believe that a Red Cross-type programme is needed to help vulnerable indigenous youngsters.

They say that malnourishment is so bad that the emergency intervention of international aid agencies is needed.

In a submission to a government-sponsored inquiry in Darwin, welfare teams say that children are starving in remote areas and accuse the authorities of not taking the problem seriously.

Rare but significant

Ministers have not commented on the allegations.

The Australian Medical Association says that malnutrition makes children far less resistant to disease and can cause intellectual disabilities.

Dr Robert Parker, the association's vice-president in the Northern Territory, believes that while starvation in indigenous communities is "reasonably rare", it remains a significant challenge.

"I think it is a reflection of the whole predicament of 200 years of loss of culture, loss of empowerment and a lot of the Aboriginal issues do relate to poverty. It is a complex picture.

"Child malnutrition is just one aspect of a whole range of indices that are contributing to the social, economic disadvantage of Aboriginal people," Dr Parker said.

The abuse of alcohol and drugs by parents is often blamed for malnutrition in the young, along with unemployment, a lack of education and the high cost of fresh food in isolated indigenous settlements.

The Northern Territory's Child Protection Inquiry was set up last year to find ways to improve the welfare system.

It is expected to hand its report to the government next month.

Aborigines make up about 2% of Australia's population but they suffer disproportionately high rates of imprisonment and ill-health.

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