Asia

Australia child abuse commission begins public hearings

File photo: the first day of the Royal Commission into the Sexual Abuse of Children, at the County Court in Melbourne, 3 April 2013
Image caption The commission was set up under former Prime Minister Julia Gillard

Australia's national inquiry into child sexual abuse has begun public hearings, as the panel said more than 4,000 victims had come forward.

The Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse will examine religious groups, NGOs and state-care providers.

The commission, which launched in April, began private hearings with victims earlier this year.

It was set up amid claims of abuse in the Catholic Church.

"It is now well known that the sexual abuse of children has been widespread in the Australian community, however the full range of institutions in which it has occurred is not generally understood," commission chair Justice Peter McClellan said.

"Many of the stories we are hearing will shock many people."

'Nation-changing'

The commission is set to look at organisations including Scouts Australia and Hunter Aboriginal Children's Services in its first public hearing, which is taking place in Sydney.

Later public hearings are expected to examine the YMCA, a children's home run by the Anglican Diocese of Grafton, and the Catholic Church's procedures for responding to allegations of child sexual abuse.

Separate inquiries are also taking place in the states of New South Wales and Victoria.

The Royal Commission was announced in November by former Prime Minister Julia Gillard. It came after a top policeman, Detective Chief Inspector Peter Fox, accused the Catholic Church of trying to silence investigations into allegations of abuse, and called for formal inquiry.

Detective Chief Inspector Fox said many victims were happy their voices were now being heard, and described the commission as "a nation-changing event".

Abuse of children by Roman Catholic priests has been a major issue in Australia recent years.

In September, the Roman Catholic Church in the Australian state of Victoria confirmed that more than 600 children had been sexually abused by its priests since the 1930s.

During a visit to Australia in July 2008, Pope Benedict XVI met some of the victims and made a public apology for the abuse.

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