Australia and the Forgotten Children in detention camps
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Australia and the Forgotten Children in detention camps

The Forgotten Children reside on Christmas Island, Manus, Nauru, or any of Australia’s 11 detention centres, languishing in prison alongside adults for crimes they never committed. They can be newborns or toddlers, pre-schoolers, primary aged children, or teenagers. All are seeking legal asylum.

Australia’s Department of Immigration and Border Protection has admitted there are numerous incidents of self-harm, assault, sexual violence, hunger strikes and riots among the adult detainees in these centres. It’s hardly the place for children.

The Forgotten Children, the Report of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014 was commissioned early last year to provide a glimpse into the life of detained children.

The Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said the report identifies the impact of detention on the key developmental stages of children. First-hand evidence was given by the children and their families and is fully supported by psychiatrists, paediatricians and academic research. The report says detention is a dangerous place for children.

According to medical data cited in the report, 34 percent of children have been diagnosed with serious mental disorders. Earlier medical reports have already confirmed that children in detention can psychologically scar children for life.

The AHRC notes the scale of first-hand evidence collected for the inquiry is unprecedented. The inquiry team visited 11 detention centres, with repeat visits to Christmas Island after reports of attempted suicide and self-harm. Around 1,233 interviews were conducted with children and their parents including those in detention and those who had been released into the community.

The inquiry also received 239 submissions from the public and stakeholders, took evidence from 41 witnesses at five public hearings, and relied significantly on data provided by the immigration department.

AHRC Commissioner and Professor Gillian Triggs said, “The progressive release of children by the government over recent months is a humane response to the misery of these children and makes the vital point that efforts to ‘stop the boats’ are not dependent on children and their families being detained for prolonged periods.”

She noted successive governments that have failed children by locking them up in immigration detention. “I urge the government to continue to release these children and their families as a matter of the highest priority,” she said.

The commission remains concerned about children still in detention. Recent data from the immigration department shows that 211 children remain locked up throughout Australia and a further 119 children are held indefinitely on Nauru.

The National Children’s Commissioner, Megan Mitchell, assisted the inquiry on several visits to detention centres. She said, “Children who come to Australia seeking asylum should have the same rights as those born in this country and should be protected from any activities that could harm their development. The prolonged detention of children is clearly not in their best interests and, as the report shows, can result in significant mental and developmental harm,” said Ms Mitchell.

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The commission also welcomes the release of children in immigration detention over recent months. Since the inquiry began in February 2014, about half of the 1138 children detained at that time are now in the community or in community detention.

The inquiry also reviewed changes in law, policy and practice in the treatment of children in immigration detention over the 10 years since the commission’s 2004 report.The Australian Human Rights Commission is calling for the Australian Government to release all children and their families from immigration detention camps in Australia and in Nauru following a report that investigated the impact of prolonged detention on their mental health and well-being.

“Besides lengthy detention of children,  Australia breaches its international obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” said Professor Triggs.

Tony Abbott blasted the report saying it is biased and partisan; “This is a blatantly partisan politicised exercise and the Human Rights Commission ought to be ashamed of itself.”

The Abbott government asked Professor Triggs to resign ahead of the publication of the commission’s critical report, Guardian Australia confirmed.

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