Abuse of children continues without criminal penalty under Victorian mental health law

Citizens Commission on Human Rights Victoria

With the Victorian Mental Health Act under review, now is the time to correct the complete lack of adequate legislative protection for the mistreatment of a child (or adult) under the Act. There are no criminal fines or prison terms for abuse in the Victorian Mental Health Act. In stark contrast, Victoria’s Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, fines up to $45,435 or up to 12 months imprisonment for anyone found guilty of an act of cruelty to an animal that wounds, abuses, worries, torments or terrifies the animal.

Now is the time to legislate against torturous psychiatric practices that harm children. If this went on in a non-psychiatric setting, it would cause wide scale public outrage. This includes electroshock and restraint.

Electroshock is the application of hundreds of volts to the head to cause a seizure. It can cause permanent memory loss, brain damage and even death.

The World Health Organization stated, “There are no indications for the use of ECT on minors, and hence this should be prohibited through legislation.”

Despite this clear directive, ECT is still being used on children in Victoria. Thirteen children aged 13-17 years were electroshocked between 2014/15 and 2019/20.

Psychiatric restraint can cause death. In 2019/20, there were 170 episodes of bodily restraint (mechanical and physical) on children aged 0-12 and a further 632 restraint episodes on children aged 13-17. Instead of banning restraint immediately, it is proposed restraint be phased out within 10 years.

Executive Director of Citizens Commission on Human Rights Victoria, Ms Kim Cullen said, “It is unacceptable that the Victorian public are being denied the right to see the draft mental health bill before it goes to parliament. History has shown that we need independent community oversight, especially given the conflicts of interest rife with psychiatry. ECT is torture and must be banned for all ages, especially for our vulnerable children. It does not take 10 years to phase out trauma-inducing restraint. We all need to see the draft law to ensure that abuse will be legislated against.”

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