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‘Locking up children taints us all’, says Commission President

Asylum Asylum Seekers and Refugees
Children in Detention press conference

The Australian Human Rights Commission has called for all children held in immigration detention in Australia and Nauru to be released into the community.

The recommendation was made in The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, which was tabled in Parliament last night.

Australian Human Rights Commission President Professor Gillian Triggs welcomed the release of children in immigration detention over recent months, but said the Commission remains concerned about those remaining in detention.

“Since the Inquiry began in February 2014, most of the 1138 children detained at that time are now in the community or in community detention,” Professor Triggs said.

“Recent data from the Department of Immigration shows that 211 children remain in detention in Australia and a further 119 are held in Nauru.

“When our Report was written last October, these children had been detained for an average of 14 months. Today their detention has lengthened to 17 months.

“It is our hope that the remaining 330 children will be released with their families as soon as it is safe to do.”

The Inquiry team visited 11 detention centres, with repeat visits to Christmas Island after reports of attempted suicide and self-harm. A total of 1,233 interviews were conducted with children and their parents including those in detention and those who had been released into the community.

The Inquiry also received 239 submissions from the public and stakeholders, took evidence from 41 witnesses at 5 public hearings, and relied significantly on data provided by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.

The report provided unprecedented first-hand evidence of the impact that prolonged immigration detention has on the mental and physical health of children. It also identified the impact of detention on the key developmental stages of children as infants, pre-schoolers, primary aged children and teenagers.

Professor Triggs said the findings on mental health disorders among children in immigration detention were “deeply shocking”.

“34 per cent of children detained in Australia and Christmas Island have a mental health disorder of such severity that they require psychiatric support,” she said.

“Fewer than 2 per cent of children in the general community have mental health disorders of this severity.  We believe the rate to be even higher in Nauru.

“Children are self-harming in detention at very high rates – over a 15 month period from 2013-2014, there were 128 incidents of self-harm amongst children. During this same period there were 27 such incidents of voluntary starvation involving children.”

The Inquiry also found that the children have been exposed to unacceptable levels of assault, including sexual assault and violence in detention.

Professor Triggs said successive governments have failed children by locking them up in immigration detention.

“This Report provides an opportunity for change. Never again should any child be treated in this way in Australia’s name,” she said.

“It is contrary to those values we admire in the Australian spirit; a generous hearted welcome to those needing our protection and a fair go.

“I appeal for a more humane and legally responsible approach to refugees who seek our help. I ask you to read this Report and decide for yourself.”

Recommendations of the Report:

  • Recommendation 1 calls for all children and their families in immigration detention in Australia and Nauru to be released into the community.
  • Recommendation 2 calls for the Migration Act to 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.

For more information or to view the report visit

For the Media Statement please visit…


The video from the livestream of the press conference held at the Commission is now available


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