Children don't belong behind wire

Dinoo Kelleghan

A drawing by a child in detention

The incarceration in dangerous conditions of hundreds of asylum-seeker children is an outrage meriting Royal Commission review, Federation declared, joining more than 200 groups in calling for an end to the practice.

The protest followed a damning Human Rights Commission (HRC) report on abuse suffered by children in detention. On the heels of the February 12 report came further evidence that the abuse still goes on.

“NSW Teachers Federation members are committed to providing the best possible care and education for more than 750,000 students in NSW public schools. We believe children in detention deserve the same and call on the Federal Government to act urgently to redress this situation,” Federation President Maurie Mulheron said.

More than 100 children on Christmas Island had been denied education for more than a year between January 2013 and March 2014, the HRC said. Mr Mulheron said this was a breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and that the entire report made for “chilling reading”.

Mr Mulheron said he was shocked at the Prime Minister, Tony Abbott’s quick dismissal of the HRC report, which found that in those 14 months there had been 233 assaults involving children in detention, dozens of reported sexual assaults and 128 cases of self-harm.

Mr Abbott claimed the HRC “should be ashamed of itself” for engaging in a “blatantly political exercise” in drawing attention to these tragedies and calling for a Royal Commission review.

“Please do not shoot the messenger,” HRC President Gillian Triggs responded, asking the government to focus on the substance of the report, The Forgotten Children which said bluntly that “immigration detention is a dangerous place for children”.

And cutting the ground from under the Prime Minister’s feet came evidence of continued abuse, with the Senate estimates committee being told on February 23 that there were 44 reported cases of sexual assault of children in Australian detention centres (this does not include Nauru) in from July 2014 to July 2014, and five cases of sexual assault on minors in Nauru in the six months to January this year. There are 116 children in the Nauru camp, with another 68 to be returned there after medical treatment in Australia.

“For children in the care of the government to be experiencing self-harm, abuse, trauma, post-traumatic stress and moderate to severe health disorders such as incontinence and mental health issues is cause for national shame,” Mr Mulheron said.

The statement signed by Federation and 200 other organisations pointed out that this is the only country that detains children as its first option. In comparison, Britain has legislative limits that restrict the detention of families with children to 72 hours or, if authorised by the Home Minister, seven days.