South Sudanese parents in Australia are sending their children to boarding schools in Africa to escape rising youth crime rates.
Desperate parents have told 7.30 it is safer for their children to go to school in Kenya or Uganda than live in some Melbourne suburbs.
“It is very extreme, but there are many cases where that has really worked to the best of young people,” said Kot Monoah, chair of the South Sudanese Community in Victoria.
The community has been rocked by a recent rise in arrests of its young people for carjacking and home invasions, and the emergence of the Apex gang, which is made up largely of South Sudanese youth.
Akec Mading sent her daughter and son to boarding school in Kampala after witnessing relatives’ children get in trouble with the law and develop drug problems.
“There are a lot of African children now in jail. There are a lot of children now in the street, they drink, they do whatever.”
Ms Mading believes an Australian culture which encourages too much freedom for teenagers is to blame, and parents no longer have the authority to discipline their children.
Her cousin Rebecca has also sent two of her 11 children to boarding school in Uganda, after two of her older children ended up with drug problems, and another adult child was jailed for assault.
She is now looking after 10 grandchildren, as well as some of her own kids.
“[My other kids] took freedom,” Rebecca said in her limited English.
Ms Mading said since returning from two years’ boarding school in Africa, her two children were doing much better at school and university and were much more respectful.
She believes there should be more support for African-Australian families who want to send their children to board overseas.
Mr Monoah said African families often struggle to deal with teenagers in an Australian culture which is more liberal and oriented to children’s rights.
“Typical South Sudanese culture is one of strict upbringing,” says Mr Monoah.
Corporal punishment and obeying parents without question is the norm and Mr Monoah said South Sudanese parents were unprepared for how to manage teenagers without those tools.
“We need to help parents find alternative parenting, if we all of a sudden say that strict parenting is not the way to go in Australia,” he said.
Mr Monoah claimed there had been a number of cases where allegedly spurious complaints to child protection authorities had resulted in children being separated from their parents.
As a result, he said, fear of child protection is the number one issue for South Sudanese parents, and it paralyses their ability to discipline their children.
Children have figured out how to rort the child protection system, he added, with the result that some young people are making untrue claims about their parents in order to escape a strict upbringing.
“When you [discipline] your child, the child protection is taking over,” Ms Mading agreed.
“[They say] you abuse your kid. They take kids from their parents.”
In a statement, a spokesperson for the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services said: “Child protection principles are the same for every case — culture is not a risk factor.
“A child is only ever removed from parents in the best interests of the child, and where possible is always placed with kin as a first preference.”
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