Submission to the National
Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from
the National Catholic Education
right to education and the responsibilities of government
as the primary educators of their children
Education and children in immigration 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.
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.
the responsibility to ensure adequate educational provision is made for
children in immigration detention.
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
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.
are involved in a limited way in the educational provision of children
(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
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.
(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
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.
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).
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
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.
Updated 9 January 2003.