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Sydney -

Proposed legislation that would allow police in Australia's Northern Territory to charge women drinking excessive amounts of alcohol during pregnancy was criticised by an academic expert on Friday as “scapegoating” indigenous people.

Aboriginal health expert Janet Hammill said a better plan to tackle high levels of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) in the territory would be put up health warnings where people buy alcohol.

Indigenous people make up a third of the territory's population.

“If women are drinking during pregnancy, there's something going on in their lives,” the Queensland University researcher said.

“Often what we see is that they're second and third generation FASD sufferers themselves.”

FASD shows up in abnormal physical features, low intelligence and behavioural problems.

John Elferink, the territory's attorney general, said this week he was looking at draft legislation to “either prosecute or alternately restrain” those “engaging in conduct which harms their unborn child”.

If the legislation gets on the statute book, it would be the first in the world to criminalise excessive drinking by pregnant women.

Hammill, who runs the university's research into developmental disorders caused by alcohol, said locking up pregnant women caught drinking excessively was impracticable. - Sapa-dpa