Damning evidence of serious child harm in detention

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Damning evidence of serious child harm in detention

February 11, 2015: Sector leaders have called for a bi-partisan commitment to permanently end the policy of mandatory and indefinite detention of asylum seeker children and families following the release of the Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry report.

Save the Children’s Director of Policy & Public Affairs, Mat Tinkler, said, “As the child protection agency that supports children on Nauru we know from first-hand experience that prolonged, mandatory detention causes serious harm to children. While considerable efforts are made to minimise that harm, the only way to guarantee the rights and wellbeing of asylum seeker children on Nauru is for the Australian government to immediately end the practice of mandatory detention.”

“The findings of the Australian Human Rights Commission report confirm what is already known globally: detention is a dangerous place for children and can cause life-long harm. You can’t keep children safe in detention,” said UNICEF Australia’s Chief Technical Adviser, Amy Lamoin.

The report states that prolonged detention causes acute distress and a rapid decline in mental health and well-being. From 2013-2014, 128 children engaged in self-harm and 105 children were assessed as being at serious risk of suicide or self-harm. The report identifies a direct correlation between the time spent in detention and rates of mental illness.

Human Rights Law Centre’s Director of Legal Advocacy, Daniel Webb, said, “Australia’s mandatory and indefinite detention of children is one of the most punitive policy approaches in the world. It’s harmful. It’s a breach of international law. It must end.”

Sector leaders recognise that Minister Dutton’s recent steps to rapidly move children from immigration detention into the community on mainland Australia is a distinctly positive step. “We consider the rapid movement of children out of detention as acknowledgement, by the Minister, of the serious harm that the Government’s policy has caused,” said Child Rights International Chair, Alastair Nicholson.

“The Australian Human Rights Commission report proves that the Australian Government has failed in its duty of care to asylum seeker children,” said Mr Nicholson. “It provides clear evidence to both parties that the current approach causes immeasurable harm that cannot be justified.”

Plan International Australia Deputy CEO, Susanne Legena, said, “We remain seriously concerned about the children who are still in detention and those who will be affected by this policy in the future, if it were to continue. We again call for a new approach based on shared regional responsibility so that we can avoid repeating the same mistakes at an enormous cost to children.”

The CEO Group on Children in Immigration Detention is coordinated by UNICEF Australia, Plan International Australia and Save the Children.