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By Colin Packham
SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia is failing to protect its female indigenous people from violence, which is aggravated by high levels of inequity, the United Nations said on Monday.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians rank near the bottom of every social and economic indicator, which exacerbates tension in communities of the world's longest continuous civilisation.
"They are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of domestic/family violence and up to 3.7 times more likely than other women to be victims of sexual violence," Dubravka Šimonović, U.N. special rapporteur on violence against women, told a news conference in Canberra.
Šimonović, who said the figures were likely to underestimate the extent of the problem, said aboriginal women were often caught in a cycle of violence, beginning in childhood.
Indigenous children are about seven times more likely than non-Indigenous children to be subjected to abuse or neglect and about 10 times more likely to be in out-of-home care, the United Nations said.
With a troubled upbringing, a disproportionately high number of indigenous woman end up in prison, a figure exacerbated by government policies, most notably incarceration for unpaid fines, which Šimonović said affected indigenous people more than the non-indigenous people.
The issue of the incarnation of indigenous women hit the headlines after the 2014 death of a women known only by her surname - Dhu - after she was arrested for unpaid fines shortly after a domestic violence incident.
Despite complaining of pain, Dhu was denied adequate medical attention, a coroner in Western Australia state ruled late last year.
Reducing the imprisonment of indigenous people is one of seven government objectives to improve the lives of aboriginal people, as well as increasing life expectancy and employment.
Critics of government policy say there is not enough funding to eradicate inequity.
"We need more funding for programmes, especially providing culturally sensitive environments," said Angela Spinney, a research fellow at Swinburne University of Technology.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Robert Birsel)