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Commission Website: National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention

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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

the National Catholic Education

Commission (NCEC)


right to education and the responsibilities of government


as the primary educators of their children


Education and children in immigration detention


term detention

The National Catholic

Education Commission (NCEC) is pleased to respond to your invitation

of 21 December to make a submission to the HREOC inquiry into children

in immigration detention. The NCEC is the official body appointed by and

responsible to the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference for developing,

enunciating and acting upon policy at the national level for the Church's

work in education.

The NCEC limits it

submission to comments on the educational provision for children in immigration

detention. While it makes no comment on the policy of detention itself,

some of its comments do have practical implications for how the policy

of detention is applied.


right to education and the responsibilities of government

All people have the

right to participate in the basic goods necessary for human flourishing,

such as truth, knowledge, aesthetic experience, and friendship. These

are the objects of formal education, which aims at the development of

the whole person - intellectually, physically, emotionally, spiritually,

and socially. Articles 28 and 29 of the United Nations Convention on the

Rights of the Child, ratified by Australia in December 1990, set out the

rights of children to education. Governments have a responsibility to

take measures to promote society's capacity to provide adequate opportunities

for education, especially for children. This includes those children in

Australia who, although neither citizens nor permanent residents of the

nation, find themselves, by force of circumstance and government policy,

in immigration detention.

Government has

the responsibility to ensure adequate educational provision is made for

children in immigration detention.


as the primary educators of their children

Parents have the

primary responsibility to ensure adequate education for their children,

and therefore they have the right to make decisions about how their children

are educated and to monitor their development. The involuntary separation

of children from their parents for extended periods would mitigate against


Government policy

should aim to keep families together while in immigration detention, and

that requires ensuring living conditions that are conducive to the good

health and well-being of children.


Education and children in immigration detention

Catholic schools

are involved in a limited way in the educational provision of children

in detention.

In Maribyrnong

(Vic), St Margaret Mary's Primary School provided schooling for a small

number of children from the detention centre during 2001. Children were

accompanied to a and from school by staff from Australasian Correctional

Management (ACM).

In Port Hedland

(WA), St Cecilia's Catholic College is right across the road from

the detention centre. During the 1990s, a Cambodian student attended the

school on a regular basis. Since then, some students (always girls) have

attended to do some specific subjects such as Home Economics. They attended

normal classes and were accompanied for those sessions by ACM staff. In

2001, children from the Centre only attended for one-off activities not

part of any regular programme, but nothing has taken place since August

2001. Sometimes the Centre has used some facilities such as the Kindergarten

for their own purposes but not involving mixing with St Cecilia's students.

Last year the principal was approached by the centre Director regarding

the possibility of greater liaison with the College, but nothing has happened

since. The centre has its own school and teachers. Currently the numbers

of children of compulsory school age would be around 100.

In Woomera

(SA), property owned by St Michael's parish is currently being leased

by ACM and is used as an educational facility for children from the detention

centre and from the housing trials in the local community. Though formerly

a school run by the Church for local students, the property is no longer

a Catholic school.

In Villawood (NSW),

the principal of the local Catholic secondary school is investigating

ways of providing appropriate learning materials, and the Catholic Education

Office is planning a visit there in March with a view to formulating proposals

for greater involvement.

The NCEC believes

that the well-being of the children in immigration detention would be

enhanced by active steps to increase the opportunities for education available

to them from schools outside the detention centres. The mixing students

from the centres with the regular students in schools would also be likely

to have a positive effect on relationships between local communities and

the centres.

Catholic education

authorities have assisted and are assisting in the provision of education

to children in immigration detention, and would consider proposals for

greater involvement. The management of the centres should be encouraged

to discuss the possibilities with local schools and diocesan authorities.



NCEC believes that

long-term detention is deleterious to the development of children intellectually,

emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually. This is because in

order to develop our capacities fully, which is the purpose of education,

human beings need to be free to exercise those capacities, to have the

opportunity of exploring and evaluating a wide range of experiences. Legal

constraint of freedom for purposes other than incarceration for crime

should therefore only be used as a temporary measure of last resort in

extraordinary circumstances. Immigration detention, and the constraints

on freedom it involves, should not become the norm. There is a danger

of institutionalisation, where a person becomes so habituated - physically,

emotionally and psychologically - to the rules and limitations of institutional

life that they are unable to live effectively and independently in the

less structured environment beyond the walls or wires of the institution.

Furthermore NCEC

is concerned that the current conditions in some of the detention centres

are not conducive to good learning. The emotional and psychological stress

the situation places on both parents and children has a negative impact

on educational outcomes. NCEC is particularly concerned about reports

from paediatricians who have worked at Woomera that the conditions there

are causing young children serious mental distress (see Attachment).

Long-term detention

and the constraints on freedom it involves are deleterious to the education

of young people. Government policy should aim to minimise the time spent

in detention. NCEC believes that detention is prejudicial to the development

of children.

NCEC would be willing

to act as a contact between Catholic Education authorities and the Commonwealth

in respect of improving the educational provision of children in detention.

Yours sincerely,


T.M. Doyle



March 2002


Updated 9 January 2003.