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HREOC: Mandatory detention causes serious harm to children.

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04/392 THURSDAY 13 MAY 2004

HREOC: Mandatory Detention Causes Serious Harm to Children The Australian Democrats have welcomed the release of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) Report on Children in Immigration Detention and said the report must lead to major policy change by both major political parties.

Democrats Leader Senator Andrew Bartlett said he is disappointed that the report has been released at a time when all eyes are on the Federal Budget and an early election.

"Mandatory detention causes major harm to innocent children. It is an inevitable consequence of the policy. Any policy or law that causes such damage to children must be changed.

The reports major findings include that 'children in immigration detention for long periods of time are at high risk of serious mental harm' and that the detention regime is fundamentally inconsistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CROC).

"While the Labor Party is justly critical of the Government on this, their own policy will still not address much of the damage that continues to be done in our detention centres."

Senator Bartlett has visited every detention centre in Australia and Nauru. Just 2 weeks ago he visited detainees, including children and parents, in the Baxter detention centre and the housing detention in Port Augusta.

"The distress and trauma of the children and mothers in housing detention is obvious despite improved housing conditions. The Government has called this detention 'family-friendly' yet it requires the children and their mother to live separate from their father and older children."

"We must also not forget the hundreds of children who have been detained in Nauru who are beyond the jurisdiction of HREOC, but their suffering is just as great. Seventy children are still suffering now in Nauru, many of whom are under 12 years of age and have been in detention for over two and a half years.

"When you add the findings of this report to the recent High Court ruling that child protection laws do not cover children in immigration detention, it is obvious that we need to strengthen laws against child abuse. The system of detaining children is child abuse and there is no excuse for child abuse.

"One example of a family examined at length in this inquiry highlights the failings of the current policy. In November 2002, Woomera management informed the Department of Immigration that the family were at risk and could no longer be cared for within the centre. A senior DIMIA official stated that 'the Department … has been actively managing this case and considering what options might be available to the family'. Eighteen months later this family is still in detention," Senator Bartlett concluded.

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