Children as young as 11 are spending their nights "hanging out" on the notoriously crime-prone Armadale train line and surrounding streets because they feel safer there than at home, a report has revealed.
Violence, overcrowding and drug and alcohol use at home mean some children feel they have "nowhere else to go", a Save the Children Australia report to be released today says.
The research was based on interviews with more than 400 young people in Perth's south-east corridor and focused on 120 Aboriginal school-age children who took part in the study.
It found that without positive adult role models at home, friendships fostered on the streets were an important source of "alternative support structures" for young Aboriginal people to develop their identities.
The report called for a change in the way Aboriginal children on the streets and trains late at night are treated by the State Government, service providers and the community, saying they should not be perceived as criminals. It also highlighted the need for better youth programs, including engaging Aboriginal elders, and early intervention because children were engaging in risky behaviour.
Save the Children regional manager Ross Wortham said it confirmed anecdotal evidence about why many Aboriginal children spent time on the streets.
"We have more and more young people turning to the streets and trains to escape tough lives at home and, to make matters worse, when they get there they often face discrimination from the community and by those in authority," Mr Wortham said.
"Government, service providers and the wider community are collectively failing to look after young people in Perth's south-east and a change in thinking, attitude and actions towards young people who spend time on the streets and trains late at night is desperately needed."
Many young people identified the use of drugs and alcohol as a concern in their community.
One 12-year-old boy told researchers he saw children as young as eight smoking marijuana. "I reckon they do it 'because they see their parents sit around and do it'," he said.
There were also concerns about risky sexual behaviour involving girls as young as 13.
"You should see how many people go to parties these days . . . lots of girls aren't virgins any more and they are 13," one 11-year-old girl said. "That's how the generation is now."Save the Children also gave 20 Aboriginal children from one primary school in Perth's south-east cameras to record their lives in a bid to give them a voice.