Never again use children for political gain - Gillian Triggs for The AGE

13 March 2015

All asylum-seeker children and their families should be released into the community.

Australia holds hundreds of children in mandatory closed immigration detention for indefinite periods, with no pathway to protection or settlement. This includes more than 100 children detained on Nauru.

Children and their families have been held on the mainland and on Christmas Island for, on average, one year and two months. More than 167 babies have been born in detention in the last 24 months. The The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention (2014) report gives a voice to these children.

It provides compelling firsthand 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.

There is nothing new in the finding that mandatory immigration detention is contrary to Australia's international obligations. The Australian Human Rights Commission and respective presidents and commissioners over the last 25 years have been unanimous in reporting that such detention, especially of children, breaches the right not to be detained arbitrarily. As the medical evidence has mounted over the last eight months of the inquiry, it has become increasingly difficult to understand the policy of both Labor and Coalition governments. Two former immigration ministers, MP Chris Bowen and Social Services Minister Scott Morrison, agreed on oath before the inquiry that holding children in detention does not deter either asylum seekers or people smugglers. No satisfactory rationale for the prolonged detention of children seeking asylum in Australia has been offered.

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