Children in immigration detention: government sanctioned child abuse?

| February 19, 2015

Tony Abbott has rejected the Australian Human Rights Commission report on children in immigration detention as ‘blatantly partisan’. Angela Beresford says it’s obvious that the government is out of touch with society and reality.

Not surprisingly, the report has been defined, by some, as the unveiling of what can only be described as government sanctioned child abuse 1.

The report paints an extremely graphic picture and makes for particularly grim and depressing reading with Gillian Triggs, Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) president, describing the findings as “deeply shocking” 2.

The report provides comprehensive, robust, qualitative and quantitative evidence of the physical, mental and emotional harm being done to children in detention 3. The report describes how children have regressed in their development, have lost bowel control and speech and have developed bed-wetting. Children are not eating or sleeping and are having nightmares; they have become moody and have developed aggressive behaviour 3. Children are frightened to be alone, clingy and anxious 4 and have been exposed to unacceptable levels of assault, including sexual assault and violence in detention 5.

The report details how children as young as three are suffering depression 6 and 34 % of children detained have a mental health disorder of such severity that they require psychiatric support 5. Moreover, children are self-harming at very high rates 5. Over a 15 month period from 2013-2014, there were 128 incidents of self-harm amongst children, 27 incidents of voluntary starvation 5, 3 attempted hangings and 5 incidents of self-strangulation 1. Shockingly, there are 105 children on suicide watch, 10 of which are children under the age of ten 6.

The report provides compelling evidence of the need for Australia to cease the detention of children once and for all 7. It makes 16 recommendations, including: that all children and their families in immigration detention should be released into the community 5; someone independent should become the guardian for unaccompanied children 8; that the Migration Act 1958 should 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 5 and that a royal commission should be established5.

But, instead of acknowledging the revealing content of the report, engaging with its horrific substance and considering its recommendations, the government has stated that the report contains many allegations 9, has rejected the findings and has dismissed the report as largely redundant 2. Ignorantly, it insists that all people in immigration detention are provided with appropriate care, treated with dignity and respect, and have their claims assessed as soon as reasonably practicable, consistent with Government policy 2.

And now, the government has resorted to a childish, unproductive and deflective blame game, questioning the motivations of the AHRC 6. It has accused it of being “blatantly partisan”, said that it “should be ashamed of itself” 2 and has called for Gillian Triggs resignation 1. Ironically, Abbott said that “the AHRC ought to be sending a note of congratulations to Scott Morrison saying “Well done mate because your actions have been very good for the human rights and the human flourishing of thousands of people” 2. Worse still, when Abbott was asked if he “felt any guilt” over the suffering of children kept in indefinite detention, he replied, in true Abbott style, “None whatsoever.”2.

It would appear that Abbott and the government are oblivious, detached and out of touch with the people, society and with reality. And by denying and disregarding the issue of children in detention, and especially the AHRC report, the government could essentially be accused of the sanctioning child abuse.


[1] GetUp: Action for Australia: Locking up kids is barbaric, it has to stop. Media Statement 11 February 2015.

[2] Kirk: Tony Abbott calls report on children in detention ‘blatantly partisan’. Australian Broadcasting Corporation [Internet] 12 February 2015.

[3] Talley: Child detention: end this shameful bipartisan policy. The Drum. [Internet] 13 February 2015.

[4] Elliott: Forgotten children: I was shocked by what I saw. The Drum. [Internet]. 13 February 2015.

[5] Triggs: Locking up children taints us all’, says Commission President. Australian Human Rights Commision. 12 February 2015.

[6] Woodley: Children in Immigration Detention inquiry prompts recommendations for a royal commission. Australian Broadcasting Corporation [Internet] 12 February 2015.

[7] Child Fund Australia. Never Again: Lets end the detention of children once and for all. Joint statement by Australian organisations and community groups. 13 Febraury 2015.

[8] Sedghi: Child rights advocates support call to release children fro immigration detention. Australian Broadcasting Corporation [Internet] 12 February 2015.

[9] Brissenden: Scott Morrison dismisses calls for Royal Commission into children in detention. Australian Broadcasting Corporation [Internet] 12 February 2015.



  1. Michael Gill

    Michael Gill

    March 12, 2015 at 2:37 am

    Children In Detention

    I completely agree with you Angela. There is no, absolutely no excuse to detain or imprison children. The policies of this government and of the previous government were disgusting as regards this matter. I refuse to vote for either party purely on this issue alone. As a nation were look poor and as a social group we specifically devalue all children. No wonder why when overseas Australians are increasingly reporting being ashamed. All the best.

  2. NicoleCooper

    March 27, 2015 at 11:21 pm

    A ‘blatant attack’ on the government?

    National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention: a ‘blatant attack’ on the government, or a voice for abused children? The Australian Human Rights Commission’s national inquiry into the effect of immigration detention on children was released last month, providing a picture of the health and wellbeing of children in detention. The Human Rights Commission2 found that, on average, children are detained for more than a year, and that this detainment has profound impacts on the mental and emotional health of children. They recorded 33 recorded assaults involving children, 33 incidents of sexual assault and 218 incidents of self-harm from the period of January 2013 to March 20143. The Convention on the Rights of Children (Article 37(b)) states that the detainment of children should be used as an absolute last resort and that they must be held for the shortest possible time. It also states that children should be treated with respect, and not made to suffer violence or abuse at the hands of other inmates or guards. In addition, Australian Government policy dictates that children are not to be held in detention centres; they must only be held in facilitated housing1. Despite these facts, children in detention centres are held for arbitrary reasons2. Despite these facts, there are numerous reports of assault of children in Australian detention centres. Despite these facts, 330 children have been indefinitely detained in Australian immigration detention4. Regardless of the horrifying revelations brought forward by the Human Rights Commission, Prime Minister Tony Abbott insists that he feels no guilt “whatsoever”, and refuses to set up a Royal Commission into the detention of children4, declaring that the Australian Human Rights Commission should be “ashamed of itself” over the inquiry. Abbott and the incumbents appear to be intent on blaming the previous labour government for any and all problems surrounding children in immigration5, hobbling discussions about how to rectify human rights abuses with constant debate about who did what and when. The it-wasn’t-us card has been played by Abbott one time too many. It shouldn’t matter when the report was written. It shouldn’t matter which political party of the day is responsible. What matters is, what are we going to do about it? The report holds several recommendations. Children detained in immigration detention should be released as soon as possible. Children should only be detained long enough to conduct necessary health and security checks. The best thing we can do us a country is to process refugee claims as quickly as possible. Despite what Abbott may believe, this “blatant attack” on the government is about human rights and the rights of children, not political pandering. References [1]Australian Government. (2015). Australian Migration Act 1958. Retrieved from: ComLaw, Fact Sheet [2]Australian Human Rights Commission. (2014). The Forgotten Children: National inquiry into children in immigration detention. Retrieved from: The Human Rights Commission [3]Australian Human Rights Commission. (2015). Locking up children taints us all. Retrieved from: The Human Rights Commission [4]Griffiths, E. and Woodley, N. (2015). Tony Abbott labels Human Rights Commission report into children in detention ‘blatantly partisan politicised exercise’. Retrieved From: The ABC [5]White, S. and Browne, R. (2015). Human rights commission should congratulate Scott Morrison: Tony Abbott responds to report on children in immigration detention. Retrieved From: The Sydney Morning Herald