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Aborigines face alcohol ban after report on child sex abuse

Australia- Alcohol and pornographic material are to be banned in some indigenous communities in the north of Australia after a report claimed “rivers of grog” were fuelling the sexual abuse of children.

Announcing a series of surprise measures in parliament yesterday, Australia’s prime minister, John Howard, said children under 16 in Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory would face compulsory medical examinations. More police officers would also be drafted in to help maintain law and order in the remote communities, including searching public computers for x-rated material, he said.

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“This is a national emergency,” said Mr Howard. “We are dealing with children of the tenderest age who have been exposed to the most terrible abuse from the time of their birth virtually. Exceptional measures are required to deal with an exceptionally tragic situation.”

In other drastic reforms, indigenous parents who keep their children off school will have welfare payments docked and there will be tighter controls on income support to ensure parents spend money on food and other essentials rather than alcohol and gambling.

Some Aboriginal leaders attacked the plan as paternalistic and racist. Michael Mansell, an Aboriginal activist, said: “He [Mr Howard] is directing his venom at one race and one race only. He inflames the belief that black communities cannot survive without harsh measures.”

Little Children are Sacred, the 316-page report of the Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, said lack of education and alcoholism were the chief causes of child abuse in all 45 indigenous communities in the Northern Territory. Children as young as three were exposed to hardcore pornographic videos at home and had seen adults having sex, desensitising them to sexual behaviour.

Local police officers were accused of turning a blind eye to a “rampant informal sex trade” between Aboriginal girls aged 12 to 15 and non-Aboriginal local mineworkers, who paid the girls in alcohol, cash and other goods. Alcohol was used as a “bartering tool” by black and white men for sex with under-age girls, the report added.

Under the plan, there will be a moratorium on alcohol sales for six months. A permit system restricting non-Aboriginal access to indigenous land, which Mr Howard said made it easier for abuse to go undiscovered, will also be scrapped.

A co-author of the report, Rex Wild, a public prosecutor, said he had not expected such a strong reaction from the government, which had not consulted him before announcing the reforms. “I am surprised that they have moved so loudly but I don’t think that’s a bad thing,” he told the Australian Broadcasting Commission.

Mr Howard’s plan overrides the powers of the Northern Territory government, and critics have already said that his proposals are unenforceable.

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