Human rights have been challenged throughout history. It has occurred in different places, different situations, and different time periods. Things such as the Manifest Destiny, the Holocaust, and African American rights have challenged they way mankind views its members. A major violation of human rights was left unchecked for a long period of time. Doris Pilkington’s Rabbit-Proof Fence describes life in the unsettling world of the Aboriginal culture during the time of the European settlement of Australia.
While the European settlers were executing the abduction of the Aboriginal children, the Australian government became a part of the United Nations. They were one of the first to join after the UN’s creation in 1942. Australia joined in 1945. When joining the United Nations a country must accept the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was created by the UN to protect the rights of all people in the world. Although centered on the ‘30s, the Stolen Generation policy in Australia continued on until the 1960s. During that time between 1945 and 1960 the Australian government overstepped the UN’s boundaries on human rights.
One of the first things the Aboriginal people came into conflict with was the separation of land between themselves and the European settlers. As the European settlers began moving in, “…the entire Aboriginal population… grew to realize what the arrival… meant for them: it was the destruction of their traditional society and the dispossession of their lands” (Pilkington 13). The Europeans took all of the fertile land for themselves and left the Aboriginals with insufficient farming land. This is a direct violation of the United Nation’s stand on human rights. Their policy states that all people have the “right to adequate living standard.” It also violates the first declaration of human rights stated in the United Nations: the “right to equality.” Clearly the Aboriginals did not have the same opportunities as the Europeans.
As seen in the text the Aborigine culture was violated in other ways as well. One of these ways was the way their culture was limited for growth. The Aborigines remember the “…corroborrees and songs that they were forbidden to dance and sing, unless commanded by government officials” during this time (Pilkington 16). This is a terrible occurrence. The settlers were forcing the native culture to change. They limited the culture and way the people lived their lives. This is a violation of the “right to participate in the cultural life of the community.” The Aboriginal people no longer felt like a unified culture. They were broken apart by the invaders.
The text describes how the Aboriginal “…laws [were] not… recognized by these strangers” (Pilkington 15). The European settlers didn’t allow the Aboriginals to use their laws because they wanted to be in control of the people living in Australia. Once they were the head of laws and punishments, they would control the country. The Aboriginals were punished for carrying out their own laws. They were forced to follow the settlers’ system. However, they were discriminated under this system. The Aboriginals “…expected the same form of justice under the white man’s law,” but they were not given it (Pilkington 15). The settlers violated the UN “right to equality before the law.” As described in the novel, a man came before the court saying “…that a white man stole his wife,” but instead of the action they would have given a white man, they gave the man “… a bag of flour and told [him] to go home” (Pilkington 15). This was clearly a violation of human rights.
The settlers in Australia believed they were “civilizing” the nation and that their actions were necessary for growth as a country. This was a similar thought in the United States when the European settlers were trying to spread westward. The Manifest Destiny was the American belief that it was the United States’ divine right to expand westward and control all of North America. The idea for the Manifest Destiny came even before the United States was formed. Christopher Columbus, Spanish monarchs, and the pilgrims all had the same intentions. The Native Americans were treated very poorly during the time of westward expansion in North America. Many of the human rights issues that occurred in Australia happened in America as well. The Native Americans’ land was taken from them, they were discriminated against, and were not seen as equal under the law. There are many parallels between the two occurrences in history.
There are different perspectives on every situation. The European settlers in Australia, just like in America, did not believe what they were doing was wrong. By looking at the situation of the Stolen Generation through the eyes of history, one has the opportunity to ask: Was it justified? Some may argue the Australian government was justified because it was for the children’s betterment. Personally, I don’t believe you can’t ever justify taking a child away from its mother. The pain and sorrow the families had to go through was excruciating. To express their sorrow, the families “…gashed themselves and infected [the] wounds” (Pilkington 45). I don’t think it was justified for the government to inflict that much pain on the families and subject the children to ridicule in a white society for the rest of their lives.