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Child protection

By Paul Dobbyn

BRISBANE Romero Centre’s Rebecca Lim has first-hand experience of the mental suffering of children in detention.

“For example, we’ve had a four-year-old girl staying here in day care while her mother studies English,” Ms Lim said.

“The little girl showed clear signs of trauma from her experiences – for about a year she wouldn’t talk to us.

“All she’d do was sit in a chair and place her hand against her throat indicating a beheading.

“One can only imagine what this little girl has seen, either in her home country or in detention in Australia, possibly witnessing incidents such as self-harm.

“I suppose this child, her many siblings and single mother, were fortunate enough to be released into community detention.

“I don’t know how long they spent in closed detention.”

Ms Lim has now added her voice to those outraged by a recent report from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s (AHRC) National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention.

Among matters raised in the report were high rates of mental health disorders among children held in detention; numerous reported incidents of assaults, sexual assaults and self-harm involving children; and extreme levels of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress.

Since the publication of the report, more than 200 Australian organisations have put their names to a joint statement calling for legislative change to cease the detention of children once and for all.

Many Catholic organisations have added their names to the statement including Brisbane archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission (CJPC), the Edmund Rice Centre (ERC), the St Vincent de Paul Society, Jesuit Refugee Service Australia and the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office.

Members of Catholic and community groups have called for allegations of ongoing child sexual abuse in Australian Government-funded detention centres to be referred to the current Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

ERC director and Refugee Council of Australia president Phil Glendenning said: “Today, we are calling for the release of children and families detained in Australia and Nauru, and for allegations of child sexual abuse in Australian-funded detention centres to be referred to the Royal Commission.”

Bravehearts founder and chief executive officer Hetty Johnston said “the detention model is fundamentally flawed … children should never be detained with adults”.

“As an institution with the care of children as part of its remit, Bravehearts supports any push to have detention centres included as part of Royal Commission investigations.”

“The Royal Commission is covering youth detention centres, why not immigration centres?” she said.

Catholic Mission expressed “deep concern” over the findings of the report.

“We are very concerned about the findings of this report – particularly the insurmountable psychological damage that is being done to children who are still in detention,” national director Martin Teulan said.

St Vincent de Paul Society’s national chief executive Dr John Falzon said: “The mandatory detention of children and adults, be it onshore, in Australia’s offshore detention centres, or in facilities overseas that we fund, is one of the most shameful and damaging policies successive governments have inflicted on people.”

CJPC executive officer Peter Arndt said the AHRC report “reveals the horrible impact of detention on children”.

“This is an outrage which we should not tolerate for a moment,” he said.

“We will not tolerate Attorney-General Senator George Brandis’ attempts to ignore the plight of asylum seeker children in detention or to bury the Human Rights Commission’s report.

“Let all of us make it clear to Senator Brandis and his Government and to the Labor Opposition, the Greens, all other parties and independent senators and MPs that we will not tolerate the detention of children any longer.”

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