Allegations of police complicity in the abuse of children in care in Australia will be put to the United Nations this week.
A delegation from Care Leavers Australian Network (CLAN) flies to Geneva on Tuesday to meet the UN Committee Against Torture.
The meeting on Friday is a follow-up to a detailed CLAN submission to the UN outlining evidence of torture or cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in Australian orphanages, children’s homes and foster care.
The submission details first-hand accounts of corporal punishment with whips, canes and sticks, sexual assaults including rape, and also tells how in some homes electric shock was used to punish children.
It also recounts deaths in care.
It is estimated up to 500,000 Australian children were in care in institutions run by churches and the state in the 20th century.
One man who was in a Salvation Army-run home in Box Hill, Victoria, recounts in the submission how a carer “used to make a group of boys stand around and hold hands, he would attach an electric current to us. He would keep turning the current up”.
The boys were bashed if they did not do as they were told, and lived in fear of electrocution.
A woman who was at a home in Graceville, Queensland, told how if she vomited, the matron would shovel the vomit back into her mouth until she bled.
As an amendment to the original submission, CLAN has asked the UN to consider how Australian police – federal and state – treated children who absconded from various orphanages, children’s homes and institutions.
The network has completed a study on absconders from Victorian institutions.
The submission addendum argues the government of Victoria should be held “vicariously liable for the conduct of Victorian police” just as they have been in other cases.
Leonie Sheedy, executive officer of CLAN who is leading the delegation, told AAP on Monday: “The complicity of police has always concerned us.”
The research uncovered that 7544 children absconded, mostly from state-run homes in Victoria in 51 years.
Police returned them to abusive conditions, no questions asked, even when in one week in 1960, 15 children ran away in Victoria.
Victoria was chosen for the research because police gazettes in other states are sealed for 60 years. CLAN wants them made available.
“We knew children ran away from orphanages but we did not know the extent until we started to collate the information in Victoria,” Ms Sheedy said.
She said CLAN would also tell the UN about a 15-year-old boy charged with buggery by NSW police in the 1970s when he complained of being “farmed out” to pedophiles by his carer.
“I want the UN to acknowledge that what happened to children in orphanages was torture, it was degrading treatment, and our country must acknowledge this and must set up a reparation fund to help repair people’s shattered lives,” Ms Sheedy said.