SYDNEY (Reuters) - Aboriginal children should be forced to learn English to escape lives of poverty and inequality, said Australia’s indigenous affairs minister.
“Too many still only have a rudimentary understanding of the language spoken throughout our country and can only speak their own language, which perhaps is only known to 200, 300 or 400 other people,” Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said.
“That must end,” Brough told reporters on Friday.
Brough said he was considering a plan to restrict welfare payments to aboriginal parents in order to force their children to attend school and learn English.
“If you don’t have maths and English and a basic education ... then you can’t be employed,” he said.
“I am not asking anyone to give up their own language. There are many bilingual Australians, people that have come here with no English whatsoever, but today have strong English but not at the expense of their own language.”
Many aboriginal leaders are critical of the Australian government’s practical approach to improving black lives, such as using the army to build outback housing, labeling it paternalistic.
Australia’s 460,000 Aborigines make up two percent of the 20 million population and are the nation’s most disadvantaged group, with far higher rates of unemployment, alcohol and drug abuse, and domestic violence.
Aboriginal male life expectancy was 59.4 years, compared with 77 years for all males. For indigenous women, life expectancy is 64.8 years compared with 82.4 years for other Australian women.
“If we’re all going to aspire...that all Aboriginal children should have the same life expectancy, the same capacities to enjoy the bounty of this nation, then we are just living a lie if we don’t ensure that they have...the English language,” said Brough.
Brough also said learning English would also help aboriginal children who are being sexually abused. A culture of violence fuelled by alcohol and drugs has led to widespread sexual abuse of aboriginal children in remote outback settlements.
“If those children don’t have a strong control of English, what chance have they got of actually telling people about the pain and the suffering that they’re alleged have had perpetrated on them,” said Brough.