The Herald Sun published an article on Wednesday 20 July 2016 with a big bold title: SAFER IN AFRICA. The article talked about the desperation of some African parents who are sending their teens back to Africa to escape Melbourne’s youth culture that is dominated by violence.
The article is interesting in many ways, but not for the right reasons. After all, the Herald Sun has an established reputation on picking on migrants in general and African and Islamic communities in particular and misrepresenting them, especially when it comes to talking about crime and violence in the community. The Herald Sun often views many such groups as a threat to the Australian way of life and their commentators and reporters use any story to reinforce this view as often as possible. Hence, If Africans are on the front page of the Herald Sun you can bet your neck (it’s an African saying meaning you can put your life on the line) that it won’t be for the good reasons.
The article raised some quite thought-provoking commentary from African communities on social media platforms. Some of the most interesting comments focused on three things in particular: deportation to Africa, child protection laws and the toxic nature of the Australian socio-cultural environment for many parents from CALD background raising teen-aged children in Australia.
Surprisingly, many members of the South Sudanese communities, who are the most concerned by the Herald Sun’s story appear to support the idea of sending troubled teenaged kids to Africa, as a means to help break the cycle of violent, criminal and anti-social behaviors that many of these kids seem to be developing at an alarming rate.
In the commentary, many people have argued whether sending kids back to Africa in such conditions would be equal to unlawful deportation. Suddenly, the article has brought back a debate that was raised several months ago within the South Sudanese community around Australia, following comments made by the Sydney-based Sudanese lawyer, Deng Adut, that some of the unrepentant Sudanese kids causing trouble in the community should be deported back to South Sudan.
In reading the comments, a significant number of people appear to be advocating a temporary repatriation of these youngsters and some even urge the government to facilitate it either directly or through some relevant NGOs, as one of the many options and strategies to help these young kids avoid growing into unrepentant adult criminals. This is obviously a very tricky matter and there seems to be an issue regarding the right terminology to use in describing what that “temporary return to Africa” will need to be called, given that many of these kids have been born in Australia and deportation or repatriation will not be the right terms to use in such circumstances. You cannot deport or repatriate Australian citizens into another country.
Those who oppose sending kids back to Africa, do so either on legal or moral grounds or both. Many in this group argue that if these kids are sent to Africa against their will, whether this is done by their parents alone or somehow facilitated by any other third party, it will violate the rights of these children and will simply export the problem and will not necessarily solve it. They argue that these kids are products of their (Australian) environment and the government (both state and federal) should take more responsibility in assisting parents, community groups, service providers and law enforcement agencies to help them get their lives back on track.
One thing seems to unite most members of the South Sudanese communities and other African groups; they all agree that child protection laws are part of the problem that is leading these kids into trouble. An overwhelming majority of South Sudanese folks and other Africans appear to lament the negative effects of child protection system, which practically removes the parents’ right to discipline their children the way they would want to. As parents have very little power over their teen-aged kids, the lack of power is exploited by these troubled kids who know the system and try to use it to their advantage to ensure they get their parents off their backs and go their way to do whatever they want to do and they end up committing all sorts of offences.
Many parents from the broader Australian community who are conscious of this situation try to address the problem long before it happens, by investing more and being more involved in the education of their children before they reach their “trouble years”. However, for many families from a forced migration background, such as African-Australians, parents arrive in Australia with a host of issues that they have to address before they settle and it takes them a long time before they are able to understand the Australian system and navigate comfortably into it. Many such parents have issues such as poor language skills, poor education and other things that make it difficult for them to rear their kids appropriately in the Australian context and help prepare their young children for less tumultuous adolescence. This situation puts African families at a significant disadvantage and the child protection system often comes to add fuel to the fire when parents’ relationship with their teenagers start deteriorating.
In the midst of all the commentary, one of the most interesting things about the Herald Sun’s article is that was published on the eve of the youth crime summit organized by Victoria Police and sponsored by Herald Sun. It is probably not a coincidence that this is happening. One cannot help wondering why the Herald Sun would be interested in sponsoring a youth summit when many of us know that the stories published by this paper have contributed significantly to the alienation of many African kids because of the series of misrepresentations that have been projected over the years. Perhaps the Herald Sun is trying to redeem itself? I have many reasons to doubt this is the case and have no doubt that the days ahead will shed more light on what is going on in this space.