“The Forgotten Children”

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Image: Drawing by child in detention at Nauru. Source: Australian Human Rights Commission.

Self-harm, hunger strikes, sexual assault: Gillian Triggs’ The Forgotten Children report exposes the inhumanity of prolonged detention and calls for all children to be immediately released.

The Forgotten Child” report, prepared by the Australian Human Rights Commission, tabled in Parliament last night calling for the release of all children in Australian detention centres and exposing the dangers and impacts of prolonged detainment of children.

The long-awaited inquiry found detention was inherently dangerous for children, and that “prolonged detention is having profoundly negative impacts on the mental and emotional health and development of children”.

More than 300 children committed or threatened self-harm in a 15-month period in Australian immigration detention.

A shocking 200 children were involved in assaults, including more than 30 incidents of sexual assault. Up to 30 children reported going on hunger strike.

There are 257 children in Australian immigration detention, including 119 on Nauru. More than 100 children, previously held on Christmas Island, have been released into the community on the mainland on bridging visas over the past fortnight.

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a child’s drawing of life in detention

The report interviewed 1129 children over a 15-month period from January 2013 to March 2014. It is the largest survey of children in detention ever conducted, calling for the immediate removal of the 119 children detained at Nauru and for Christmas Island to be shut down.

The report says that the royal commission would examine “the use of force by the Commonwealth against children in detention and allegations of sexual assault against these children”. It would also consider remedies for a “breach of the Commonwealth’s duty of care to detain children”.

Australia is the only country in the world that mandatorily detains all unlawful non-citizens, including children.

This new report gives a voice to these children.

“It provides compelling first-hand evidence of the negative impact that prolonged immigration detention is having on their mental and physical health. The evidence given by the children and their families is fully supported by psychiatrists, paediatricians and academic research. The evidence shows that immigration detention is a dangerous place for children. Data from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection describes numerous incidents of assault, sexual assault and self-harm in detention environments.

Importantly, the Government recognises that the fact of detention contributes significantly to mental illness among detainees.”  – Gillian Triggs (President) Australian Human Rights Commission, Nov 2014.

A drawing from a child held in detention.

 

 

 

Prime Minister Tony Abbott rebukes the report, stating that the Australian Human Rights Commission should be ashamed of itself for conducting “a blatantly partisan politicised exercise”.

He also has questioned why the HRC did not launch an inquiry when the previous Labor Government was in power and children in detention sat at 2000.

“Where was the Human Rights Commission when hundreds of people were drowning at sea?” he said on Macquarie Radio.

“Where was the Human Rights Commission when there were almost 2,000 children in detention?

“This is a blatantly partisan politicised exercise and the Human Rights Commission ought to be ashamed of itself.”

He said the HRC should be praising former immigration minister Scott Morrison for stopping the boats.

“I reckon that the HRC ought to be sending a note of congratulations to Scott Morrison saying ‘well done mate… because your actions have been very good for the human rights and the human flourishing of thousands of people’,” he said.

However, the Greens have supported to back the HRC’s call for royal commission, with MP Sarah Hanson-Young stating,

“I think this report really unveils an awful culture of institutionalised child abuse,”

“We saw, a decade ago, a very similar report, which talked about the damning effects of detention on children and we had politicians blame each other and saying no one wanted to see children in detention, and yet fast forward 10 years on, 15 years on, it’s all happening all over again.

“A royal commission is absolutely warranted.”

RECOMMENDATIONS FROM THE AUSTRALIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION REPORT ON CHILDREN IN DETENTION:

* A royal commission to examine the long-term impact of detention on children’s health; the reasons for continued use of the policy post-1992; remedies for breaches of children’s rights

* Release all children and their families detained on Nauru by March 11, 2015

* Close detention centres on Christmas Island

* Process refugee applications by March 11, 2015; grant visas to refugees * Appoint an independent guardian for unaccompanied children

* CCTV cameras installed in all detention centres

* Amend laws to allow detention of children for a limited period only to conduct health, identity and security checks

* Review the immigration department’s use of force during transfer in the March 2014 incident

MAJOR FINDINGS:

* Detained children have higher rates of mental health disorders compared with children in the community

* Current and former immigration ministers agree that holding children for prolonged periods in remote detention centres does not deter people smugglers or asylum seekers

* Then immigration minister Scott Morrison failed to act in the best interests of unaccompanied children

* The Commonwealth’s decision to use force to transfer children on Christmas Island to a different centre breached human rights

* At least 12 children born in immigration detention are stateless, and may be denied their right to nationality and protection

* Dozens of children with physical and mental disabilities have been detained for prolonged periods

* Children being detained indefinitely on Nauru are suffering extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress

* Children held on Christmas Island have been denied the right to education for more than a year

* Numerous reports of assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm involving children indicate the danger of detention environment

(Source: The Forgotten Children, Australian Human Rights Commission)

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