The breakdown of traditional societies and widespread drunkenness have led to fact that child sex abuse is rampant among Aborigines in remote northern Australia, a government report released Friday said.
Investigators said the issue should be designated as one of "urgent national significance" after recording abuse - including an alarming trend toward child-on-child abuse - in each of 45 communities they visited in the Northern Territory.
The report made 97 recommendations, including boosting procedures for reporting and monitoring offenders and addressing widespread poverty and alcoholism.
Indigenous Affairs Minister Mal Brough said the federal government had already allocated 130 million Australian dollars (US$109 million; EUR82 million) to build new police stations to help address the problem, but that health and education issues in the report were a matter for state and territory governments.
"This is a national disgrace, it's a disaster and it is something that should never happen in this country," Brough said.
Northern Territory Chief Minister Clare Martin, who commissioned the inquiry after cases of sexual abuse in remote communities attracted national media attention in last year, said her government would implement the report's key recommendations.
About 60,000 of Australia's roughly 400,000 Aborigines live in the Northern Territory - the highest proportion of indigenous residents of any region in the country - and many of them live in isolated, impoverished communities where jobs are scarce and substance abuse is widespread.
Australia's original inhabitants are now a tiny minority among its 21 million people, and suffer much higher rates of poverty, alcohol and drug addiction, and other problems. Their life expectancy is 17 years shorter than that of other Australians.
The report, by indigenous health worker Pat Anderson and government lawyer Rex Wild, said that Aboriginal society abhors child sex abuse, but that it was reported in all 45 remote communities the investigators visited.
Wild said he believed child sex abuse was rampant in Aboriginal communities across Australia - though the report said it was not possible to quantify the problem - and gave a litany of reasons, saying they amounted to a breakdown in society.
"Put simply, the cumulative effects of poor health, alcohol, drug abuse, gambling, pornography, unemployment, poor education and housing and general disempowerment lead inexorably to family and other violence, and then on to sexual abuse of men, women and, finally, children," the report said.
Poor parental supervision leaves children vulnerable to sexual predators who attack children or offer them cash or alcohol in exchange for sex, the report said.
Children were also often exposed to sexual activity between adults, which led them to believe it was normal to take part - together and with adults, the report said. In one disturbing trend, children were found to be acting out scenes they saw in pornographic movies, which were widespread.
"A disturbing finding of the inquiry was the fact that many sexual offenders were in fact children themselves," the report said.
Abusers were both Aborigines and non-Aborigines operating in or near their communities.