By JESSICA ROWE
My eldest daughter tells me she hates school. As we negotiate getting her uniform on, after I’ve managed to find it buried in a scrunchy ball at the bottom of the laundry basket, I try to explain why going to school is important. ‘But why do I have to go…’ she says.
I’ve tried the, ‘the government says you have to, and Mummy will get into trouble if you don’t go…’ Unfortunately even the threat of the government sending her mum to jail doesn’t cut it. Perhaps I was taking it a bit too far – but my patience and calmness has been fast evaporating.
So I tried another tack this week. I told her how lucky she was to go to school, how lucky she was to have an education. I told her that there are many little girls in the world who would love to go to school but their governments won’t let them.
This made my five year old stop with the whys and she was silent. A miracle – to have a few moments of quiet. And then she said, ‘Does that mean they have to stay at home and do all the housework?’ ‘Uh huh’, I replied. ‘Imagine how it would feel to just do boring work and not have a chance to learn exciting and interesting things’. Well, that was enough to get her out the door.
And it also got me thinking, why is it that we are lucky enough to be able to offer our sons and daughters the power of education when so many children are not given that same chance? Simply because my daughter was born in Australia, she and her sister have extraordinary opportunities. Not because they deserve it, not because they are better than anyone else.
They have these choices simply because the planets aligned and these little souls were entrusted to me and their father and we just happen to be lucky enough to be born in the lucky country. Essentially, all kids are like mine and they have the right to live in a caring and compassionate society – safe from warfare and oppression. Kids like mine have the right to have a childhood. Kids like mine have the right to dream – and to be given the chance of a better life.
But as I wrestle with my daily grind and herding my girls out the door, there are too many families who don’t have the luxury of being able to revel in the mundane, routine and blissfulness of only worrying about whether you’ll be late for school. I get that we have many pressures already within our society that need fixing. It’s a crime there is homelessness, it’s wrong that too many kids go to school without breakfast.
We need to right those wrongs – but we also have to think about what sort of country we are. Surely we want to be a place that welcomes kids like mine, rather than become a place that is consumed by fear and ignorance. We are one of the richest nations on the planet – and with that comes a responsibility to share it around… Not to mention that if we’re not Indigenous Australians then we are all immigrants here.
There are still far too many families and children kept in detention centres and their only crime has been to escape unspeakable horrors and to want to give their kids, kids like mine, a chance to be happy, to have a better life. Don’t we all want that for our children?
According to the Opposition, more than 200 boats have arrived this year. At the moment, unaccompanied children and families who have arrived since August 13 are being crowded onto Christmas Island – as of October 30 there were 380 children in detention on the island. The government plans to send some of them onto camps at Manus Island and Nauru – and this week Parliamentary Secretary Richard Marles indicated that the first transfers would begin “in coming days”.
According to refugee groups, these places aren’t ready to receive families. The conditions are appalling. In addition, the number of asylum seekers arriving since August 13 has already eclipsed the capacity of Nauru and Manus Island together. We know the impact long-term detention has on mental health – and the AMA says that there is no ‘specific guidelines for dealing with the health needs of children in detention’. However, the peak medical body confirms that there is plenty of research evidence of the harm that detention causes to a child’s development.
Is it too much to ask that kids like mine don’t get processed offshore, and instead have their claims processed in the community – which is working just fine all over Australia right now? Can we ask our leaders to help kids like ours have the chance to wish upon a star, have a ‘normal’ existence, where the only real conflict comes from getting out the door on time with brushed hair and matching socks for school. Can we agree that kids like mine – and yours – don’t deserve to miss out on the opportunity to thrive because they weren’t lucky enough to be born behind the right borders?
That is something I would be proud of…
If you’d like to ask the government and opposition to jointly agree that children and families should not be sent to Manus Island or Nauru, please upload a photo of your family in the comments section below with a short message including the #kidslikemine hashtag. Mamamia will add it to the gallery of people asking that Australia chooses to uphold the human rights of children.
If you use Twitter or Facebook, please upload your photo, message and #kidslikemine there as well to ensure this message is shared widely.
Jessica Rowe is an ambassador for Welcome to Australia, an organisation dedicated to cultivating a culture of welcome in our nation.