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Australia: Locking up children taints us all

Graphic: Professor Gillian Triggs releasing the report of the children in detention national inquiry

The Australian Human Rights Commission has called for all children held in immigration detention in Australia and Nauru to be released.


The Australian Human Rights Commission has called for all children held in immigration detention in Australia and Nauru to be released into the community.

The recommendation was made in The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, which was tabled in Parliament today.

Australian Human Rights Commission President Professor Gillian Triggs welcomed the release of children in immigration detention over recent months, but said the Commission remains concerned about those remaining in detention.

The Inquiry team visited 11 detention centres, with repeat visits to Christmas Island after reports of attempted suicide and self-harm. A total of 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 5 public hearings, and relied significantly on data provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The report provided unprecedented first-hand evidence of the impact that prolonged immigration detention has on the mental and physical health of children. It also identified the impact of detention on the key developmental stages of children as infants, pre-schoolers, primary aged children and teenagers.

Professor Triggs said the findings on mental health disorders among children in immigration detention were "deeply shocking".

"34 per cent of children detained in Australia and Christmas Island have a mental health disorder of such severity that they require psychiatric support," she said. "Fewer than two per cent of children in the general community have mental health disorders of this severity."

"Children are self-harming in detention at very high rates – over a 15 month period from 2013-2014, there were 128 incidents of self-harm amongst children. During this same period there were 27 such incidents of voluntary starvation involving children."

The Inquiry also found that the children have been exposed to unacceptable levels of assault, including sexual assault and violence in detention.

Professor Triggs said successive governments have failed children by locking them up in immigration detention.

"This Report provides an opportunity for change. Never again should any child be treated in this way in Australia's name," she said.

"It is contrary to those values we admire in the Australian spirit; a generous hearted welcome to those needing our protection and a fair go."

Key recommendations:

  • Recommendation 1 calls for all children and their families in immigration detention in Australia and Nauru to be released into the community.
  • Recommendation 2 calls for the Migration Act to be amended to provide that children and parents may be detained only for a strictly limited period of time necessary to conduct health, identity and security checks.

For more information on the inquiry or to view the report, visit the Commission's website.

Date: 12 February 2015

Source: Australian Human Rights Commission


Image credits

  1. Professor Gillian Triggs releasing the report of the children in detention national inquiry - Australian Human Rights Commission