9 Teenagers in detention

I am a bird in a cage

(14 year old girl, Christmas Island detention centre, 15 July 2014)

Drawing of teenager behind wire with writing 'I am 16. Help'
Drawing by 16 year old boy, Christmas Island, 2014.


In March 2014 there were 196 teenage children aged 13 to 17 years old in detention centres in Australia. On average, these children had been detained for 262 days. The number of days that teenagers spent in detention is detailed in Chart 42.

Chart 42: Number of days teenagers have spent in detention in Australia, 31 March 2014

 Number of days teenagers have spent in detention in Australia, 31 March 2014

Chart 42 description: Number of days teenagers have spent in detention in Australia, 31 March 2014. 0-90 2%, 91-180 12%, 181-270 49%, 271-360 31%, 360+ 6%.

Source: Australian Human Rights Commission analysis of data from Department of Immigration and Border Protection[363]

9.1 Needs and development of teenagers

Adolescence is broadly defined as the phase between childhood and adulthood. It is a critical period in terms of physical, social and emotional development.[364] During adolescence, children begin to think in abstract terms and develop an understanding of concepts such as morality, justice and equity.[365] It is during this phase that young people develop a sense of identity and belonging and seek a higher degree of privacy and independence.[366]

Intellectual understanding typically precedes emotional maturity in teenagers, meaning that teenagers may be able to understand their situation and surroundings before they are able to deal emotionally with troubling circumstances.[367]

Adolescence is also a time when many mental illnesses emerge, influenced by biological and environmental factors.[368]

Key developmental needs at this stage of life include a safe environment within which teenagers can explore themselves and their place in wider society. Teenagers also need an opportunity to develop healthy relationships with peers and parents, access to quality education and the freedom to engage in leisure and extra-curricular activities.[369] As is the case in earlier childhood, the environment in which a teenager is exposed can shape their future life trajectory and wellbeing.[370]

9.2 Physical environment of detention

Teenagers require a safe environment where they can explore who they are and how they fit into the wider world.[371] The physical detention environment can prevent such exploration, limiting autonomy and restricting opportunities for social interaction and integration.[372]

The physical environment of detention centres varies across the immigration detention network. While there are individual differences in accommodation, all detention centres are fenced and locked and asylum seekers are not free to come and go. If they are permitted to leave the detention centre for school or an excursion, they must be accompanied by a Serco officer. All detention centres have daily head counts of detainees. These happen four times a day and are a reminder that the detention centre is not an open, free environment.

On Christmas Island, asylum seekers are housed in converted shipping containers in rooms 2.5 metres by 3 metres.[373]

A former worker at the Pontville Detention Centre in Tasmania, where unaccompanied children were previously held, described conditions in the centre as:

like a prison with high forbidding fences, checkpoints with big locks and lots of rules about what detainees could or couldn't do. These things were obviously designed to limit the movement of the children and to control the perceived threat of a riot.[374]

The Commission found that most detention facilities on mainland Australia were well maintained and clean. However, evidence provided from Christmas Island detailed dirty toilets and showers, particularly in 2013.

When we were in Christmas Island, the toilets and showers were so dirty, we got sick. Every man and woman from every country went to the same toilet. Some people just went nearby to the toilet.

(Teenager, community interview, Sydney, 5 August 2014)

Fifty-two percent of teenagers reported that they did not feel relaxed in their current living arrangements.[375] Many described feeling like they were in jail:

I’m just a kid, I haven’t done anything wrong. They are putting me in a jail; we can’t talk with Australian people.

(13 year old boy, Darwin detention centre, 11 April 2014)

I feel like I was a criminal. There was no difference between a criminal and us. What is the difference? We’re both in closed detention.

(17 year old boy, community interview, Sydney, 5 August 2014)

Living behind a fence is like being in prison.

(15 year old boy, Melbourne Detention Centre, 7 May 2014)

9.3 Emotional wellbeing and self-harm

I have never seen happiness in my life. Now I am in detention since June 2013. I am underage. Who can I ask to support me?

(17 year old boy, Inverbrackie Detention Centre, Adelaide, 30 May 2014)

At least kids shouldn’t be in closed detention. They can’t help themselves. I’ve seen them crying. I was sick of closed detention.

(17 year old boy, community interview, Sydney, 5 August 2014)

I am going crazy, back then [in home country] I didn’t have an easy life, but it’s not easy here.

(15 year old boy, Darwin detention centre, 12 April 2014)

In the Inquiry team’s interviews with teenagers in detention, there was a high level of self-reported emotional and mental ill-health. Ninety-one percent of respondents reported that they felt their emotional and mental health had been affected since being in detention.[376]

The most frequent manifestations of self-reported mental ill-health include being always sad, crying or worried, not eating properly and losing weight.[377]

In addition to high levels of reported emotional distress, there are high levels of self-harm amongst the teenage detention population. Between January 2013 and March 2014, 125 teenagers aged 13 to 17 years old engaged in actual self-harm, and 153 teenagers engaged in threatened self-harm.[378]

The number of incidents of actual and threatened self-harm varied with age. The highest number of incidents concerned teenagers aged between 15 and 17 years old, as seen in Chart 43.

Chart 43: Number of teenagers who engaged in actual and threatened self-harm, 1 January 2013 to 31 March 2014

 Number of teenagers who engaged in actual and threatened self-harm, 1 January 2013 to 31 March 2014

Chart 43 description: Number of teenagers who engaged in actual and threatened self-harm, 1 January 2013 to 31 March 2014. Threatened self-harm 16-17 years 106, 13-15 years 47. Actual self-harm 16-17 years 47, 13-15 years 39.

Source: Australian Human Rights Commission analysis of data from Department of Immigration and Border Protection[379]

Amongst the teenagers who self-harmed between January 2013 and March 2014, several self-harmed repeatedly. Twenty-seven percent self-harmed twice or more and 11 percent self-harmed five or more times, as seen in Chart 44.

Chart 44: Number of incidents of actual self-harm among teenagers in detention, 1 January 2013 to 31 March 2014

 Number of incidents of actual self-harm among teenagers in detention, 1 January 2013 to 31 March 2014

Chart 44 description: Number of incidents of actual self-harm among teenagers in detention, 1 January 2013 to 31 March 2014. Five+ 11%, Four 3%, Three 2%, Two 11%, One 73%.

Source: Australian Human Rights Commission analysis of data from Department of Immigration and Border Protection[380]

The Inquiry received detailed evidence of the circumstances in which teenagers engaged in self-harm:

  • A 14 year old boy self-harmed seven times, six of which were within a one month period. On one occasion this involved putting his head through a glass window.[381]
  • A 17 year old boy self-harmed ten times during a 15 month period, with nine incidents occurring between January and March 2014. The methods of harm for this individual included attempting to jump off a building, punching through a window, and cutting himself.[382]
  • A 16 year old girl was witnessed hitting herself in the face and banging her head against the wall on separate occasions.[383]
  • A 16 year old boy on Christmas Island told a welfare officer that he would ‘cut myself every day until I am released into community detention’.[384]

A submission from a teenager who had been in detention talked of the ‘normality’ of self-harm in detention:

Boys (and me) cut themselves; my friend cut his throat and went to hospital. Another boy ran at the flag pole and hit his head. One tried to hang himself with his clothes but other boys saved him. Boys had bad mental health. Cutting themselves became normal if you weren’t happy. We didn’t have normal people around to show us what’s normal. Kids should never be locked up like that.[385]

The level of self-harm in detention is of particular concern given that teenagers are prone to imitating the behaviour of others, particularly peers.[386]

9.4 Safety

States have an obligation to take all appropriate measures to protect children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation that includes sexual abuse (Article 19 Convention on the Rights of the Child)

The evidence collected by the Inquiry found that 71 percent of teenagers said that they felt physically safe in detention.[387]

For those teenagers who reported feeling unsafe, the most common reasons were that detention made them feel mentally unwell and that they were exposed to people who were self-harming.[388] More detailed responses to the question about safety are in Chart 45.

Chart 45: Responses by teenagers to the question: Explain why you feel unsafe

 Explain why you feel unsafe

Chart 45 description: Responses by teenagers to the question: Explain why you feel unsafe. This place makes me mentally unwell 36%, People self-harming 33%, People fighting/scared of the people here 14%, Environment unsafe dangerous 11%, Scared of the head count at night 8%, People mentally unwell 6%, Officers always watching 6%, Serco are nice 3%, Officers don't care 3%, Other 6%

Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Children and Parents in Detention, Australia, 2014, 36 respondents (Note: respondents can provide multiple responses)

9.5 Security measures and dignity

Every child deprived of his or her liberty should be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age (Article 37(c) Convention on the Rights of the Child)

Teenagers are subject to some policies and procedures which encroach upon their dignity in detention.

The Commission found that in many instances, Serco officers used boat identification numbers to identify children rather than their names.

When teenagers were asked how often they needed to identify themselves by boat IDs rather than their names, 36 percent of respondents answered ‘always’ or ‘often’, while 35 percent of respondents answered ‘never’.[389] Of those that responded ‘always’ or ‘often’, 72 percent were in detention in Darwin.[390] Of those that reported that they were never identified by their boat IDs, 33 percent were detained in Inverbrackie, 29 percent in Darwin and 25 percent in Melbourne.

Child and Family Psychiatrist, Dr Sarah Mares reported on the difficult procedures involving identification for detainees on Christmas Island.

Days are structured around frustrations and potential humiliations that involve lining up for food and medications and showing ID cards at every point.[391]

Many asylum seekers raised concerns with Inquiry staff about the four welfare checks that Serco is contractually obliged to conduct each day.[392] The Department of Immigration and Border Protection submits that the purpose of the checks is to ‘ensure that all detainees are present and to ensure that all people in immigration detention are safe and well’.[393]

These welfare checks can involve Serco officers entering bedrooms shining torches or roll-calling parents. Evidence to this Inquiry is that these checks have never identified any unauthorised absences.[394] Child psychiatrist, Dr Jureidini, who accompanied the Inquiry to Inverbrackie Detention Centre, reported that head counts were breaches of privacy and appeared to make people uncomfortable.[395]

At night at 10pm they went in the room when I was in the bathroom. It happened three times.

(16 year old girl, Wickham Point Detention Centre, Darwin, 11 April 2014)

When they wake me up at night time and knock on the door, they look like ghosts.

(14 year old girl, Wickham Point Detention Centre, Darwin, 11 April 2014)

Such security measures may have an adverse impact upon teenage wellbeing, especially given that adolescence is a time when privacy and autonomy are sought and one’s personal identity is shaped.[396]

Despite these systemic issues, the Commission found that individual staff at detention centres treated teenagers well. Chart 46 shows that the majority of teenagers thought that Serco treated them well.

Chart 46: Responses by teenagers to the question: How do Serco treat you?

 How do Serco treat you?

Chart 46 description: Responses by teenagers to the question: How do Serco treat you? Very good 20%, Mostly good 39%, Sometimes good 18%, Sometimes good sometimes bad 8%, Not good or bad 8%, Sometimes bad 6%, Often bad 1%.

Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Children and Parents in Detention, Australia, 2014, 106 respondents

Case Study 2: 24 hour supervision of 15 year old boy

HD is a 15 year old boy from Iraq who arrived in Australia with his father in August 2013.

When HD and his father were detained at Perth Detention Centre allegations were made that HD had engaged in sexualised behaviour. HD denied the allegations and to date the Western Australia police have not interviewed him or laid any charges.

For medical reasons HD and his father were transferred to the Melbourne Detention Centre in March 2014.

The WA Department for Child Protection and Family Support recommended that HD should not have any unsupervised contact with children and referred the case to Child Protection Services in Victoria.

As a result of this recommendation HD was placed under 24 hour watch by a Serco officer for about five months and was prevented from attending school. These arrangements have caused HD and his father anxiety and distress and are stigmatising.

On 10 April 2014 a paediatrician advised that HD should be engaged in formal education as soon as possible as his non-attendance at school is ‘significantly detrimental to his mental health’.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Serco and International Health and Medical Services had concerns about the impact of the constant supervision on HD and proposed that the constant monitoring be reduced and that HD’s father supervise him around children.

However, on 13 June 2014, Child Protection Services in Victoria interviewed HD and his father and recommended that the 24 hour monitoring continue and did not support the Department’s proposal. Child Protection Services queried why HD was not attending school given that he is constantly supervised. In response the Department stated that it was inappropriate to ‘send a guard to school with HD’.

On 19 June 2014 a psychiatrist assessed HD as being a very low risk of engaging in inappropriate behaviour:

HD’s risk of engaging in sexualised behaviour is likely to be very low, and could be considered lower than an average male adolescent, particularly give[n] his cultural background that enforces appropriate behaviour. HD can be considered suitable to attend mainstream school. I would not anticipate any difficulties in the future.

On 25 July 2014, a psychologist from International Health and Medical Services reviewed HD’s file after mental health concerns were raised that he was prevented from attending school and was socially isolated. The psychologist reported to the Department that:

There appears to be nothing in his file that to me justifies clinically his need to be closely supervised by Serco, his not attendance at school and his social isolation from other members of the MITA [Melbourne Detention Centre] community.

That same day a Department Regional Manger emailed the First Assistant Secretary of the Community Programmes and Children Division recommending that the Department follow the advice of International Health and Medical Services to reduce the supervision arrangements and allow HD’s father to be responsible for his son from 10pm to 8am. Further, it was recommended that at other times Serco keep watch from a distance, rather than at arms-length, and that HD should attend school.

On 8 August 2014 the detention centre manager wrote to the Department Regional Manager to follow up HD’s case. In that email, it is noted that a forensic psychiatrist stated in relation to HD:

The notion of constant supervision would appear to be grossly excessive and incongruent to the level of allegations. The DHS (Department of Human Services) perhaps need [to be] reminded that registered sex offenders are not supervised in the community.

The detention centre manager wrote that she is ‘struggling to understand why this situation is being allowed to continue’ and that:

all stakeholders concur with the independent psychiatrist assessment that the current supervision arrangements are grossly excessive. Denial of access to school and social interaction with peers is detrimental to HD and continuation of these arrangements is causing serious harm.

The Commission understands that the 24 hour monitoring of HD was finally discontinued in mid-August 2014. At the time of writing this report, HD was still prevented from attending school.

9.6 Relationships with parents

Sometimes I had to take the role of the parent.
(16 year old boy, community interview, 5 August 2014)

Of the 196 teenagers aged between 13 and 17 who were detained on 31 March 2014, 140 were accompanied by one or both parents.[397]

Relationships between teenagers and parents can be affected by the detention environment and it can be difficult for parents to assume normal parental roles. Some parents reported that they felt disempowered and were not able to take responsibility for their children or to appropriately assert their authority.[398] Given that adolescence is recognised as a time when young people challenge parental authority yet, still need the safety of boundaries, any undermining of parental authority can be particularly damaging for a parent’s relationship with their teenage child and the health and wellbeing of that child.[399]

A submission from the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network described a 13 year old child who had been detained for more than 12 months. In addition to concerns about the child’s general emotional wellbeing, the submission noted that:

the child’s relationship with her father is appearing to break down, with the child appearing to lose respect for her father and expressing frustration about his lack of ability to change her circumstances.[400]

Teenagers may also be affected by parental mental illness which can deprive them of adequate emotional and physical support and care. This may compound the distress and anxiety that the young person has about his or her parent’s emotional wellbeing.[401]

Teenagers who have parents with mental illness may have to take the role of primary caregiver for younger siblings. This can force them to assume responsibility for which they are not sufficiently mature. It may also force them to ignore or suppress their own developmental needs as young people.[402]

9.7 Relocations

The majority of teenagers in detention in Australia have been moved between detention centres. Thirty-nine percent of teenagers said that they had been relocated once, while 23 percent had relocated two or more times. The figures are at Chart 47.

Chart 47: Number of times teenagers were transferred between detention centres

 Number of times teenagers were transferred between detention centres

Chart 47 description: Number of times teenagers were transferred between detention centres. Has never moved 38%, Moved at least 1 time 39%, Moved at least 2 times 19%, Moved at least 3 times 3%, Moved at least 4 times 1%.

Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Children and Parents in Detention, Australia, 2014, 137 respondents

Relocations can be detrimental to teenage development. They can disrupt peer relationships and restrict the development of a sense of belonging, both of which are crucial for healthy development at this stage of life.[403]

Several young people threatened suicide or self-harm if they were going to be moved away from friends and relocated to another centre.

  • A 17 year old boy threatened to end his life if not transferred back to his friends who were detained in a different Christmas Island compound[404]
  • A 13 year old boy on Christmas Island told Serco staff that he wanted to be reunited with his friend in another compound and on being told that this wasn’t possible, threatened to kill himself[405]
  • A teenager at Wickham Point Detention Centre, Darwin, advised staff that he was feeling suicidal due to two of his friends being moved from the detention centre[406]
  • A 14 year old girl in the Darwin Airport Lodge Detention Centre reportedly threatened to kill herself if she and her family were relocated once again[407]
  • A 15 year old boy made a statement to Serco officers that he would kill himself if he and his mother were not returned to Darwin[408]

9.8 Provision of medical services

Medical services were available at all detention centres. Dr Young, former Director of Mental Health Services at International Health and Medical Services noted that specialist mental health services are required for children on Christmas Island.[409]

Dr Young stated that, in 2013, there was no full-time child psychiatrist or child psychologist based on Christmas Island.[410] Two doctors working at Christmas Island stated in evidence to the Inquiry that they believed that there were no child specific health services offered on Christmas Island from July 2013 to November 2013.[411] Child and adolescent mental health specialists are especially critical for teenagers, as this is the stage of life with the greatest risk of onset of mental disorder.[412]

In September 2014, International Health and Medical Services reported that on Christmas Island from July 2013 to July 2014 there were registered nurses with formal qualifications in child specific health services. They further reported that psychologists with qualifications in children’s health were available for 366 of 396 days of this period. Additionally, IHMS stated that child psychiatrists visited in February and July 2014.[413]

The oral evidence given by two doctors working on Christmas Island at the time conflicts with the evidence IHMS provided on a review of their rostering. It is difficult to confirm the actual availability of child mental health specialists and services on Christmas Island during this period.

A paediatrician accompanying the Inquiry staff on a visit to Christmas Island reported that many children felt that their medical conditions were not being taken seriously:

People did not feel heard by the health service. They felt that if they had a list of complaints ... the doctor said to us or the nurse said to us, ‘you just want a transfer’ or ‘you are telling us this for some ulterior motive’. They often indicated that they didn’t feel believed that these were real medical issues ... [they were] reluctant to go to the health services.[414]

9.9 Education

States have expressly recognised the right of the child to education (Article 28 Convention on the Rights of the Child)

Access to education is vital for healthy teenage development. Schooling provides opportunities to build social networks and to develop knowledge and skills to facilitate the transition to adulthood.

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection policy for teenagers aged 13-17 years is that enrolment and attendance at school is mandatory.[415]

Yet adequate schooling was not readily available on Christmas Island for most of 2013-14.[416] Two hours of schooling was available each day, provided on a rotational basis to all school age children on Christmas Island.[417]

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection publicly recognised this deficiency in education services at the first public hearing.[418] Schooling has been made available to teenagers since July 2014. The Western Australian Catholic Education Office is the provider of education services on Christmas Island.

On mainland Australia, the Commission found that the majority of teenagers were enrolled in local public schools and were attending. However, those arriving late within the school term and those transferred from Christmas Island or Nauru for medical treatment were generally prevented from attending.[419]

The Inquiry heard evidence that some children at the Melbourne Detention Centre were not allowed to attend school because they were subject to offshore transfer and they would be going back to Christmas Island. This prevented some teenagers from attending school even though they stayed in Melbourne for periods of up to 13 months.[420] Another teenager detained in Melbourne was told at 17 that there was no point in him attending school because once he turned 18 he would have to stop going.[421]

The Commission found that 76 percent of teenagers always had their bags searched when they returned to detention.[422] At Inverbrackie Detention Centre all children are searched on their way to and from school.[423] One 17 year old told the Inquiry that he stopped going to school because of these security measures.[424]

Being in detention can have a negative impact upon teenage learning, even where educational facilities are available and adequate. Research into children in detention shows that the stress of the detention environment can affect the ability of a child to concentrate and absorb new information.[425] In a submission provided to the Inquiry, the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network reported that it had received reports from teachers that:

children’s behaviour at school deteriorates over time in detention, along with their ability to learn. [Teachers] report that there is lot of fighting among the children from the centres and that the children while initially bright and keen to learn, over time begin presenting as unhappy, angry, rude and unenthusiastic about learning.[426]

9.10 Recreation

States have recognized the right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities appropriate to the age of the child and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts (Article 31 Convention on the Rights of the Child)

The opportunity to engage in recreational and extra-curricular activities is crucial for healthy adolescent development. Such activities are important at this phase of life, allowing teenagers to exercise autonomy and choice, to discover their own interests, and to establish peer relationships.[427]

A lack of sufficient activities in detention can lead to boredom and isolation, as well as reinforce feelings of hopelessness, all of which can have negative impacts upon teenager wellbeing.[428]

Recreational facilities and access to equipment varies between detention centres. Although some sporting and extra-curricular activities are available for children, 25 percent of interviewed teenagers said that they were not given enough time for recreation.[429]

Complaints about a lack of activity for teenagers were prevalent amongst parents and teenagers.

One week ago you said you were coming here, so they set everything up. It’s not always like this.

(Father of four children, Inverbrackie Detention Centre, Adelaide, 12 May 2014)

The Xbox arrived yesterday and the controls have been hidden... they have never been used.

(15 year old child, Melbourne Detention Centre, 7 May 2014)

Excursions from detention centres were infrequent across the detention network. Forty-six percent of teenagers had left the detention centre no more than three times during their entire time in detention (excluding for school).[430]

The Inquiry received reports that teenagers on Christmas Island were regularly taken to the nearby oval. Children were also taken on bus trips around the island but were not allowed to get out of the bus. Consequently, many teenagers found these trips pointless and stopped attending.[431]

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection advised that in July 2014 a gymnasium and recreation equipment, including pool tables, had been installed at Phosphate Hill Detention Centre on Christmas Island. The Department also reported that there are plans for further recreational facilities on Christmas Island.[432] The Inquiry welcomes these improvements but notes the long delay given that Christmas Island detention centres have been used to detain children for many years.

9.11 Findings specific to teenagers

Detention puts teenagers at high risk of mental illness, emotional distress and self-harming behaviour.

Detention impedes the social and emotional maturation of teenagers.

The lack of school education on Christmas Island for teenagers who arrived in Australia on or after 19 July 2013 has had negative impacts on their learning and may have long term impacts on the cognitive development and academic progress of these children.

At various times teenagers in detention were not in a position to fully enjoy the following rights under the Convention on the Rights of the Child:

  • the right to the highest attainable standard of health (article 24(1)); and
  • the right to enjoy ‘to the maximum extent possible’ the right to development (article 6(2)) and to a standard of living adequate for the child’s physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development (article 27(1))
  • the right to be protected from all forms of physical or mental violence (article 19(1))

    The Committee on the Rights of the Child has stressed the importance of providing teenagers a safe and supportive environment in which to develop:
    The health and development of adolescents are strongly determined by the environments in which they live. Creating a safe and supportive environment entails addressing attitudes and actions of both the immediate environment of the adolescent - family, peers, schools and services - as well as the wider environment. (General Comment No 4, paragraph 14)
    The detention environment is not a safe and supportive environment for teenagers. Teenagers in detention have limited activities designed specifically for them, and limited opportunities to leave the centres, other than for school. The restrictions on their freedom and autonomy can result in boredom and isolation. They are also subject to relocation between detention centres, which disrupts peer relationships and a sense of belonging.

    Teenagers in detention are exposed to risk as they are kept in confined areas with other teenagers and adults who are mentally unwell and who engage in self-harming behaviour. Between January 2013 and March 2014, 125 teenagers aged 13 to 17 years old engaged in actual self-harm, and 153 teenagers engaged in threatened self-harm. The level of self-harm in detention is of particular concern given that teenagers are prone to imitating the behaviour of others, particularly peers.
  • the right to be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age (article 37(c))

    Teenagers in detention are subject to policies and procedures which encroach upon their dignity. If they leave the detention centre for school or an excursion, they are required to be accompanied by a Serco officer. Within the detention centres, they are subject to head counts four times a day, including at night.

    Also, on Christmas Island and in Darwin, there are occasions of Serco officers using boat identification numbers to identify teenagers, rather than their names.

The failure of the Commonwealth to provide education to teenagers on Christmas Island between July 2013 and July 2014 is a breach of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, article:

28(1): States Parties recognize the right of the child to education, and with a view to achieving this right progressively and on the basis of equal opportunity, they shall, in particular:

(b) make [different forms of secondary education] available and accessible to every child, and take appropriate measures such as the introduction of free education and offering financial assistance in case of need.

The Commission notes that article 28(1) provides that the right to education can be achieved progressively. However, the Committee on the Rights of the Child has made clear that ‘States need to be able to demonstrate that they have implemented [article 28(1)] “to the maximum extent of their available resources”’ and that ‘States are required to undertake all possible measures towards the realisation of the rights of the child, paying special attention to the most disadvantaged groups.’(See General Comment No 5, paragraphs 7 and 8)

Section 9.9 in this chapter describes in detail the lack of education provided to teenagers on Christmas Island for the year between July 2013 and July 2014.  A senior officer of the Department acknowledged during the Inquiry’s first public hearing that this was not adequate to meet the needs of the children detained there.

There were options readily available to the Department to address the children’s educational needs that were not taken. One option was moving the children to the Australian mainland so that they could access education in the same way as other children detained there.  Another option was providing the necessary level of education on Christmas Island, which was not done until July 2014. 

The failure of the Commonwealth to take either of these measures for a year is a breach of article 28(1).

The Commission notes that all school aged children detained on Christmas Island are now attending school full time, consistent with article 28(1).


[363] Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Children in detention data list as at 31 March 2014, Item 1, Document 1.1, Schedule 2, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[364]World Health Organization, Health for the World’s Adolescents, 2013. At http://apps.who.int/adolescent/second-decade/section1, (viewed 25 August 2014); National Mental Health Working Group, Responding to the Mental Health Needs of Young People in Australia: Discussion Paper, 2004. At http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/C09162A3182A25DFCA257BF0001B5D6B/$File/respond.pdf. (viewed 25 August 2014)
[365]S M Sawyer, R A Afifi, L H Bearinger, S–J Blakemore, B Dick, A C Ezeh, G C Patton, ‘Adolescence: a foundation for future health’ (2012) 379(9826) Lancet Apr 28 pp 1630-40.
[366]Dr S Mares, First Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention, Sydney 2014, 4 April 2014. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Mares.pdf (viewed 15 September 2014); National Mental Health Working Group, Responding to the Mental Health Needs of Young People in Australia: Discussion Paper, 2004. At http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/C09162A3182A25DFCA257BF0001B5D6B/$File/respond.pdf, (viewed 25 August 2014)
[367]Dr J Jureidini, Second Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Melbourne, 2 July 2014, p 3. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Jureidini_0.pdf (viewed 15 September 2014).
[368]World Health Organization, Health for the World’s Adolescents, 2013. At http://apps.who.int/adolescent/second-decade/section1, (viewed 25 August 2014)
[369]Noetic Solutions Pty Ltd, A Strategic Review of the New South Wales Juvenile Justice System, 2010. At http://www.djj.nsw.gov.au/pdf_htm/publications/general/Juvenile%20Justice%20Review%20Report%20FINAL.pdf (viewed 25 August 2014); Australian Government, National Strategy for Young Australians, 2010. At http://www.youth.gov.au/sites/Youth/bodyImage/Documents/NatStrat.pdf (viewed 25 August 2014); Caldwell, L. & Witt, P. ‘Leisure, recreation, and play from a developmental context’ (2011) New Directions for Youth Development, No. 130, Summer 2011.
[370]S M Sawyer, R A Afifi, L H Bearinger, S J Blakemore, B Dick, A C Ezeh, G C Patton ‘Adolescence: a foundation for future health’ (2012) 379 (9826) Lancet Apr 28.
[371]NSW Ministry of Health, NSW Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) Competency Framework (2011). At http://www0.health.nsw.gov.au/pubs/2011/pdf/camhs_nov11.pdf (viewed 2 September 2014).
[372]I Lambie and I Randell, ‘The impact of incarceration of juvenile offenders’ Clinical Psychology Review 33 (2013) 448, 450
[373]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 8, Schedule 2, First Notice to Produce 31 March 2014. (viewed 20 August 2014)
[374]Name withheld, former professional working in immigration detention, Submission No 8 to the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Submission%20No%208%2... (viewed 2 September 2014).
[375]Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Parents and Children in Detention, Australia, 2014, Responses to question: Do you feel relaxed in your current living arrangements?, Teenagers across the detention network, 92 respondents
[376]Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Parents and Children in Detention, Australia, 2014, Responses to question: Do you think your emotional and mental health has been affected since being in detention? Teenagers across the detention network, 117 respondents.
[377]Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Parents and Children in Detention, Australia 2014, Responses to question: Emotional and mental health impacts, explanations, 94 respondents.
[378]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Death, Self-Harm and Incidents Item 11, Document 11.1, Schedule 2, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[379] Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Death, Self-Harm and Incidents, Item 11, Document 11.1, Schedule 2, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[380] Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 36, Document 36.9, Schedule 3, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[381]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 36, Document 36.9, Schedule 3, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[382]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 36, Document 36.9, Schedule 3, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[383]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 36, Document 36.9, Schedule 3, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[384]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 36, Document 36.10, Schedule 3, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[385]Name withheld, Submission No 184 to the Australian Human Rights National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Submission%20No%20184%20-%20Name%20withheld%20-%20Child%20who%20lived%20in%20immigration%20detention%20previously.pdf (viewed 7 October 2014).
[386]S M Sawyer, R A Afifi, L H Bearinger, S–J Blakemore, B Dick, A C Ezeh, G C Patton, ‘Adolescence: a foundation for future health’ (2012) 379(9826) Lancet Apr 28 pp 1630-40;
International Detention Coalition, Captured Childhood, 2012. At http://idcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Captured-Childhood-FINAL-June-2012.pdf, p. 50
[387]Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Parents and Children in Detention, Australia, 2014, Responses to question: Do you feel safe? Teenagers across the detention network,114 respondents.
[388]Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Parents and Children in Detention, Australia, 2014, Responses to question: Explain why you feel unsafe? Teenagers across the detention network, 36 respondents.
[389]Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Parents and Children in Detention, Australia, 2014, Responses to question: How often do you need to identify yourself by your boat number rather than your name? Teenagers across the detention network, 69 respondents.
[390]Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Parents and Children in Detention, Australia, 2014, Responses to question: How often do you need to identify yourself by your boat number rather than your name? Teenagers across the detention network, 69 respondents.
[391]Dr S Mares, Child Psychiatrist, Expert report to the Australian Human Rights Commission after the visit to the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centres, March 2014, p 3. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Expert%20Report%20-%2.... (viewed 10 October 2014).
[392]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Correspondence to the Commission, AHRC request for information from IAPOD visit – DIBP response as at 29 05 2014, 6 June 2014.
[393]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Correspondence to the Commission, AHRC request for information from IAPOD visit – DIBP response as at 29 05 2014, 6 June 2014.
[394]Dr J Jureidini, Second Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Melbourne, 2 July 2014, p 8. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Jureidini_0.pdf (viewed 4 September 2014)
[395]Dr J Jureidini, Second Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Melbourne 2 July 2014, p 3. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Jureidini_0.pdf (viewed 4 September 2014)
[396]S M Sawyer, R A Afifi, L H Bearinger, S–J Blakemore, B Dick, A C Ezeh, G C Patton, ‘Adolescence: a foundation for future health’ (2012) 379(9826) Lancet Apr 28 pp 1630-40
[397]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 1, Document 1.1, Schedule 2, First Notice to Produce 31 March 2014.
[398]Dr S Mares, Child Psychiatrist, Expert report to the Australian Human Rights Commission after the visit to the Christmas Island Immigration Detention Centres, March 2014, At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Expert%20Report%20-%2... (viewed 30 September 2014).
[399]Dr S Sawyer, Second Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Melbourne 2 July 2014. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Susan%20Sawyer.pdf (viewed 15 September 2014)
[400] Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network, Submission 222 to the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Submission%20No%20222%20-%20Darwin%20Asylum%20Seeker%20Support%20and%20Advocacy%20Network.pdf (viewed 30 October 2014).
[401]Dr J Jureidini, Second Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Melbourne, 2 July 2014, p 3. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Jureidini_0.pdf (viewed 4 September 2014).
[402]Dr J Jureidini, Second Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Melbourne 2 July 2014, p 3. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Jureidini_0.pdf (viewed 4 September 2014); Dr S Mares, First Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Sydney 4 April 2014. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Mares.pdf (viewed 15 September 2014).
[403]K Zwi and S Mares, ‘Commentary: Reducing further harm to asylum-seeking children. The global human rights context’ (2014) 43 International Journal of Epidemiology 104; S Goosen et al, ‘Frequent relocations between asylum-seeker centres are associated with mental distress in asylum-seeking children: a longitudinal medical record study’ (2014) 43 International Journal of Epidemiology p 94.
[404]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 36, Document 36.10, Schedule 3, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[405]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 36, Document 36.10, Schedule 3, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[406]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 36, Document 36.10, Schedule 3, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[407]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 36, Document 36.10, Schedule 3, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[408]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 36, Document 36.10, Schedule 3, First Notice to Produce, 31 March 2014.
[409]Dr P Young, Third Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Sydney, 31 July 2014, p.14. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Young.pdf (viewed 9 October 2014)
[410]Dr P Young, Third Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Sydney 31 July 2014, p.14. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Young.pdf (viewed 9 October 2014)
[411]Dr G Ferguson and Dr J-P Sanggaran, Third Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Sydney 31 July 2014, p. 13. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Ferguson%20Dr%20Sanggaran.pdf (viewed 8 October 2014).
[412]World Health Organization, Health for the World’s Adolescents, 2013. At http://apps.who.int/adolescent/second-decade/section1 (viewed 25 August 2014).
[413]M Parrish, Regional Medical Director, International Health and Medical Services, Letter to the President, Australian Human Rights Commission, 19 September 2014.
[414]Associate Professor K Zwi, First Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Sydney, 4 April 2014, p 3. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Professor%20Zwi.pdf (viewed 28 August 2014).
[415]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 10, Schedule 2, First Notice to Produce 31 July 2014.
[416]Professor E Elliott, Third Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Sydney 31 July 2014, p 7. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Prof%20Elliott.pdf (viewed 4 September 2014)
[417]Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Item 10, Schedule 2, First Notice to Produce 31 July 2014.
[418]The Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Third Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Sydney 31 July 2014, pp 3-4. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Department%20of%20Immigration%20and%20Border%20Protection_1.pdf (viewed 4 September 2014).
[419]The Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Third Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Sydney 31 July 2014, pp 3-4. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Department%20of%20Immigration%20and%20Border%20Protection_1.pdf (viewed 4 September 2014).
[420]Mr K Karapanagiotidis, Ms P Curr and Sr B Arthur, Second Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Melbourne 2 July 2014. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Mr%20Karapanagiotidis%2C%20Ms%20Curr%20and%20Sister%20Brigid_0.pdf (viewed 15 September 2014).
[421]Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Parents and Children in Detention, Australia, 2014. Response to question: Do you go to school? (explanations), Teenagers across the detention network.
[422]Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Parents and Children in Detention, Australia, 2014, Responses to question: Are your bags ever searched when you leave and return to the detention centre? Teenagers across the detention network, 74 respondents.
[423]Dr J Jureidini, Second Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Melbourne 2 July 2014, p 9. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Jureidini_0.pdf (viewed 4 September 2014);
[424]Dr J Jureidini, Second Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Melbourne, 2 July 2014. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Dr%20Jureidini_0.pdf (viewed 4 September 2014).
[425]International Detention Coalition, Captured Childhood (2012). p 53. At http://idcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Captured-Childhood-FINAL-June-2012.pdf. (viewed 2 September 2014).
[426]Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network, Submission No 222 to the Australian Human Rights National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Submission%20No%20222%20-%20Darwin%20Asylum%20Seeker%20Support%20and%20Advocacy%20Network.pdf (viewed 7 October 2014).
[427]L Caldwell and P Witt, ‘Leisure, recreation, and play from a developmental context’ New Directions for Youth Development (2011), No. 130, Summer 2011
[428]International Detention Coalition, Captured Childhood (2012), p 53, At http://idcoalition.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Captured-Childhood-FINAL-June-2012.pdf. (viewed 2 September 2014); M Dudley, Z Steel, S Mares, L Newman ‘Children and young people in immigration detention’ (2012) Current Opinion in Psychiatry. 25(4) pp 285-292.
[429]Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Parents and Children in Detention, Australia, 2014, Responses to question: Are there enough toys/equipment? (explanation). Teenagers across the detention network, 40 respondents.
[430]Australian Human Rights Commission, Inquiry Questionnaire for Parents and Children in Detention, Australia, 2014, Responses to question: How often do you leave the detention centre, excluding school (explanation). Teenagers across the detention network, 80 respondents.
[431]Professor E Elliott, Third Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Sydney 31 July 2014, p 4. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Prof%20Elliott.pdf (viewed 4 September 2014)
[432]The Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Third Public Hearing of the National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention 2014, Sydney, 31 July 2014, p 3. At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/Department%20of%20Immigration%20and%20Border%20Protection_1.pdf (viewed 4 September 2014).