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Submission to National Inquiry

into Children in Immigration Detention from

the YWCA of Australia

About the YWCA

of Australia

The YWCA of Australia

is a women's membership movement, nourished by its roots in the Christian

Faith and sustained by the richness of many beliefs and values. Strengthened

by diversity the Association draws together members who strive to create

opportunities for growth, leadership and empowerment in order to attain

a common vision: peace, justice freedom and dignity for all people.

We are the world's

largest women's organisation represented in more than 100 countries, with

a membership of 25 million worldwide. In Australia, the YWCA is represented

in over 30 locations in all States and Territories, and currently delivers

services to more than a quarter of a million women, men and children each

year, throughout rural, regional and metropolitan Australia. We are a

responsive and vibrant movement with an expanding membership of young

women leading the organisation through this millennium.

As a global organisation

the YWCA is represented in countries that are both sources of refugees

and recipients of refugees. In all of these countries the YWCA is involved

in policy advocacy and community service delivery.

About the Australian

Federation of University Women

The Australian Federation

of University Women is one of seventy-one national affiliates of the International

Federation of University Women. Founded in 1922, it pursues educational

initiatives to advance of the status and well-being of women and girls

privately and publicly, nationally and internationally, and it attempts

to further peace and international co-operation through the development

of understanding and friendship between women of the world irrespective

of race, nationality, religion or political opinion. Membership is open

to any woman residing in Australia who holds a degree from a recognised

university or college worldwide.

While concerned with

general issues of human rights, AFUW has a particular commitment to supporting

the human rights of women and girl children, and interventions it has

taken to date on immigration and refugee issues have tended to concentrate

on the situation of women and children.

About the Youth

Coalition of the ACT

The Youth Coalition

is the peak youth affairs body in the Australian Capital Territory and

responsible for representing the interests of people aged between 12 and

25 years of age, and those who work with them.

The Youth Coalition

has been operating since 1996 and is an incorporated community sector

organisation with a broad membership base. Policy positions are independent

and not aligned with any political party or movement.

The Youth Coalition

is represented on many ACT advisory structures and provides advice to

the ACT Government on youth issues as well as providing information to

youth services about policy and program matters.

We actively promote

the well being and aspirations of young people in the ACT with particular

respect to their social, political, cultural, spiritual, economic and

educational development.

About the Women's

Electoral Lobby

WEL is a national

independent political organisation dedicated to creating a society where

women's participation and potential are unrestricted, acknowledged and

respected and where women and men share equally in society's responsibilities

and rewards.

WEL was formed in

1972 and since then has played a recognised role in the political and

social history of Australia. WEL has been at the forefront of the struggle

for equal employment opportunities, access to quality childcare, sex discrimination

legislation and many other issues.

Endorsement and

Consultation Process

The YWCA of Australia

is one of three funded national secretariats in the women's sector. As

part of our role within that sector we have consulted with other women's

organisations about their concerns in regards to this inquiry and circulated

this document to more than 60 national women's organisations for comment

and input. A number of those organisations have also chosen to endorse

this document.

The circulation to

national women's organisations was done via Pamela's List, an email list

run by the National Women's Justice Coalition and supported by the Pamela

Denoon Trust.

We have also have

also circulated this document to youth organisations and disability groups

for comment and endorsement.

HREOC Terms of

Reference for this Inquiry

The provisions made

by Australia to implement its international human rights obligations regarding

child asylum seekers, including unaccompanied minors.

The mandatory detention

of child asylum seekers and other children arriving in Australia without

visas, and alternatives to their detention.

The adequacy and

effectiveness of the policies, agreements, laws, rules and practices governing

children in immigration detention or child asylum seekers and refugees

residing in the community after a period of detention, with particular

reference to:

  • the conditions

    under which children are detained;

  • health, including

    mental health, development and disability;

  • education;
  • culture;
  • guardianship issues;


  • security practices

    in detention.

The impact of detention

on the well-being and healthy development of children, including their

long-term development.

The additional measures

and safeguards which may be required in detention facilities to protect

the human rights and best interests of all detained children.

The additional measures

and safeguards which may be required to protect the human rights and best

interests of child asylum seekers and refugees residing in the community

after a period of detention.

YWCA Position

The YWCA of Australia

has previously joined with many other non-government organisations to

protest the treatment of children [1] in detention .


In a resolution passed

at the 2000 National Triennial Convention of the YWCA of Australia said

we would:

Advocate for

the rights of refugee women and for recognition of sexual violence as

grounds for refugee status, given that women who have been raped in

war are very often ostracised by their own communities.

Further our Peace

Policy states that the YWCA of Australia calls for 'protection, assistance

and training to refugee women and other displaced women.'

This submission is

endorsed by our policy and arises from it.

Through out the policies

of the YWCA of Australia there are references to young women achieving

their potential and having access to the resources and supports needed

to fulfil that potential. These are position that stand in opposition

to the mandatory detention of children and the limited access that those

children are then given to many of things that we would take for granted:

education; health; participation in decision making structures etc.

The Human Rights

policy of the YWCA of Australia notes our support for many UN treaties,

particularly relevant to this discussion including the International Covenant

on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention on the Elimination

of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention

on the Rights of the Child (CROC). In particular we note rights to:

  • freedom from

    arbitrary arrest or detention;

  • the presumption

    of innocence;

  • access to asylum;
  • education;
  • adequate housing;
  • physical and

    mental health

Children in Detention

The HREOC background

papers state that in November 2001 there were 582 children in detention,

53 of them unaccompanied.

Inquiries by the

National Ethnic Disability Alliance with the Department indicate that

approximately 4% of children have a disability. Types of disabilities

represented include: cerebral palsy, hearing impairment, vision impairment,

acute dwarfism, trauma, Perthes disease, cardiac, asthmatic and genetic

disabilities .[3]

As at 2 February

2002 the Department reports that there are 141 female children in detention


Information available

to us in preparing this submission via organisational reports both ngo

and governmental and the individual reports of visitors to centres leave

us with no doubt that Australian detention centres are no places to keep


The stories of abuse,

self-harm and trauma are distressing just to read or hear, let alone to

live through. Reliable witnesses tell of children turned mute because

of trauma, separated from their families and abandoned by the nation they

turned to for help.

The children we are

discussing in these submissions are refugees here by the decisions of

parents, grandparents and guardians because they believed it was the only

hope for the safety of that child.

A decision that was

not made by the child has now ended with them behind bars, denied education

with little access to support to negotiate the complicated system of establishing

their refugee status.

If Australia's children

were forced to flee for their lives, wouldn't you hope that someone welcomed

them at the other end? Can we do any less for those people who have entrusted

their children to us?



1. That the Australian

Government should amend its treatment of child asylum seekers in order

to reflect its obligations under international treaties such as the Convention

on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Relating to the Status of

Refugees and the 1967 Protocol by ceasing its practice of mandatory detention

of asylum seekers, especially children.

2. The YWCA considers

that the detention of children behind razor wire in situations where they

cannot access the normal activities of other children in their age group

is a form of abuse. The limits of activities, the constraints on their

social and emotional development, the limits on their capacity to develop

a secure sense of self by learning about the diversity of daily life have

the serious possibility of marking these children for life. The small

group of unattached minors is particularly at risk, as they have no responsible

adult to provide care, protection and support in very difficult environments.

There has been a range of reports on the reported distress amongst the

children most recently by the South Australian Government.

3. The YWCA is against

mandatory detention. However, we recognise that its abolition is not likely,

given the politics of fear. So we are proposing the following regime as

an interim set of measures:

Extended stays in

detention centres have detrimental impacts on the family unit and children

and young people in particular [5]. We would therefore

suggest that any detention for identification and health checks for children

on their own be limited to seven days and for those families with children

under 12 be limited to 30 days. These periods are probably sustainable

without major depressive results.

We have particular

concerns for the needs of adolescents and believe that these, in particular,

need programs with day release into local schools or other education facilities.

We propose that within 14 days, arrangements are made for the day release

of children 12-18, so they can continue their education.

4. That HREOC examine

the differences between the spirit of the contractual arrangements with

ACM and the practical implementation of them.


5. We note that present

education arrangements for those over 12 are non existent or totally inadequate

and consider a major form of institutional abuse and a breach of our obligations

under our own laws, CROC and the Refugee Convention.

6. That access to

appropriate education at all levels is provided to child and young adult

asylum seekers. Assuming that education can be delivered with appropriate

consideration of religion, culture, language and the special needs of

these young people, preferably it should be delivered alongside the rest

of the children and young people in the community.

7. There is a specific

concern for the education of girl children. It may be that a girl child

arrives in detention having been already discriminated against in access

to education in her country of origin. In order to ease girl children

into education it may be appropriate to ensure female teachers are available

or single-sex classes are available.

8. All children and

their parents should have immediate access to basic English lessons, geared

to daily needs.

9. All children over

five should have access to sporting and recreational facilities, experiences

of 'normal' activities, so they can develop their physical, social and

other skills.

10. There should

be access to computers, particularly for the girls and assistance in learning

to deal with technology. Mothers should also have access to break down

gender stereotypes.


11. All asylum seekers

especially children should have access to levels of health care of the

highest standard (CROC article 24). This health care access should include

both preventative treatment and programs as well as reactive care.

12. All children

should be immediately assessed by state based child health teams and reports

on their physical, psychological and social needs be sought. Each child

should have a case plan, making sure that they have access to any services


13. Where children

are diagnosed with particular needs, and/or their parents also have needs

that may affect the children and their care, a case plan needs to be formulated

and implemented with the consent of the parents.

In particular this

process should include recognition of the unique needs of children with

disabilities and ensure that they are given support equivalent to the

rest of the population.

14. Appropriate health

care should acknowledge both the mental and physical needs of these children.

Recognising that while they may be considered children (under 18) there

maybe particular concerns around sexual abuse and violence for women and


15. Traditional health

practices and community healers should be acknowledged and in accordance

with resolutions from the World Health Organisation traditional practices

that have a particularly detrimental effect on women and children should

be countered .[6]

16. Appropriate sexual

and reproductive healthcare services and information must be provided

in a culturally appropriate manner.

17. Further investigations

should be made into reports of coerced and violent relationships between

young women and men in the detention centres.

Supporting the

Family/Recognising Culture

18. All families

with children should have access to family oriented spaces where they

can prepare their own food, and interact within the smaller group, rather

than being constrained by in the institutional timetables.

19. The cultural

and religious preferences of refugee families should be respected and

supported in the operation of detention centres, while countering coercive

practice particularly those used to oppress women.


20. In line with

article 12 of CROC all children should be advised of their rights in the

process of seeking asylum and involved in decisions made that affect them.

In order to ensure

that children have access to adequate advice and the ability to express

their opinions separate and independent legal representatives should be

made available when necessary .[7]

International Obligations

The above suggestions

cover some of the main areas where the Australian government is failing

to meet its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Specifically we draw the attention of the government to:

Article 12 ensuring

that children's views on matters affecting them are appropriately considered;

Articles 19 & 34 protection from all forms of physical or mental

violence, sexual abuse and exploitation;

Article 22 protection as an asylum seeking child;

Article 23 care of children with disabilities;

Article 24 the highest attainable standard of health ;

Article 27 a standard of living adequate for physical, mental,

spiritual, moral and social development;

Articles 28 and 29 education;

Article 37 not be detained arbitrarily and if detained, be treated with

humanity and respect for their inherent dignity and in a manner which

takes into account their age and for the shortest period of time possible;


The actions that

are being taken by asylum seekers including hunger strikes and sowing

their lips together clearly indicate deep distress and demonstrate Australia's

failure to protect children from mental violence and further trauma. There

are reliable reports of children refusing to speak or eat in response

to the trauma's inflicted upon them in detention [9].

There have historically been reports of the sexual abuse of children in

detention centres [10] a clear violation of Australia's

obligation to those children.

We are the only western

country that places child asylum seekers in mandatory non-reviewable detention



The YWCA believes

that every child seeking asylum has the right to receive appropriate education

(K-12, tertiary or vocational) while being assessed, in detention and

after release into the community. The 1951 Refugee Convention to which

Australia is a signatory states that child refugees must receive the same

treatment as nationals in accessing primary education and treatment at

least as favourable in accessing secondary education. There is no evidence

that the Australian Government is meeting its obligation on this matter.

Reports from agencies

and individuals visiting detention centres indicate that access to education

within detention centres is rudimentary at best, failing to cover an appropriate

range of subjects with an approved curriculum or to require attendance

in the same way that Australian children are required to attend school

. [12] The information available from the Department

indicates that while some pre-school, primary & secondary schooling

and adult education is available, the hours provided demonstrate clearly

that many children in detention are not receiving schooling equivalent

to children in the broader community at the range of subjects available

and the number of hours accessible varies from centre to centre. The figures

would also seem to indicate that not all children are participating in

education. It is unclear from the information provided whether the difference

in children participating in education and children in the detention centres

represents children over the mandatory age of school attendance or whether

it reflects the non-compulsory nature of education within the detention

centres .[13]

Not only should appropriate

standards of education be available to children and young people in detention.

But those educational programs should be appropriate to the needs of children

in terms of maintenance of religion and cultural backgrounds, and address

any special needs of the children that may be associated with their need

to be refugees torture, sexual exploitation or the witnessing of such.

For the Australian

government to fail to address issues of access even to primary schooling

and particularly to seek to redress the exclusion of women and girls from

education is not acceptable to many members of the community.

We note that some

mothers and their children are part of the Woomera Alternative Detention

Arrangements and are living in the community a move we would support

and look forward to the evaluation of the pilot. The information available

indicates that these children attend school as part of the Woomera program

but does not indicate if this is in local schools. However, we note that

the children involved in this project are not yet allowed to attend community

schools, although this is under discussion. We also note with some concern

that one of the criteria for participation in the program is that one

member of the family is still in the detention centre, thus breaking up

the family unit .[14]

There is no indication

that tertiary education is available to young people in detention.

It is also important

to recognise the need for informal education for children and young people

in detention particular in regards to instruction in religion and traditional


It is not unreasonable

for organisations such as the YWCA to expect that the Australian government

will ensure access to education for all children and young people in its

care. The obvious solution to access to education for children in detention

is to facilitate their access and involvement in local schools. Information

provided by the Department would appear to indicate that some children

at the Woomera Detention Centre are attending St Michaels School, although

for very limited hours . [15] A process that could be

supported as part of a community release program for unaccompanied children

to foster families, or families.


Recognising that

children as a group are particularly vulnerable to sickness and that ill

health in these years can have a long-term detrimental affect on their

growth and development [16] appropriately addressing

their health needs must be a priority.

The health of children

in detention is not only related to medical status but also includes space

to play, adequate clothing and involvement in the community.

Given the number

of children present in detention centres with disabilities and the range

of those disabilities special attention must be given to meeting their

unique needs for support. These supports should include rehabilitation

and specialised education services as needed.

Food and nutrition

is an important part of the health of children but not only must the food

supplied by nutritional it should also be culturally appropriate and palatable

to children over a range of ages.

There are a number

of particular health issues impacting on young women that we would like

to raise. We are concerned to hear reports of extremely limited issue

of underwear to women entering immigration detention. Also concerning

are reports of young women starting menstruation having to approach male

guards in order to get sanitary products. [17]

Access to appropriate

reproductive and sexual healthcare and information must be available to

all women in immigration detention, including access to sanitary products,

contraception and condoms. This is particularly important for young women

starting menstruation or beginning sexual activity. This information and

services would seem particularly vital in light of reports of inappropriate

dealings with pregnant women and stories of violent and coerced relationships

between young women and men in detention. [18]

Supporting the

Family/Recognising Culture

'One of the best

ways to promote the well-being of children is to support their family'

says the UNHCR in its publication Refugee Children: Guidelines on Protection

and Care . [19]

Supporting and maintaining

the family unit is vital to preserving a child's access and knowledge

of their culture and language.

In situations where

repatriation is likely it is especially important to preserve a child's

first language skills and their understanding of the traditions of their


For all of these

reasons it is vital that separation of children from parents, family members

or accompanying guardians is always seen as an absolute last resort and

that efforts must be made to support families in detention.



have a right to have their own opinion and to have that opinion heard

in decisions that affect them and considered in light of their age and

maturity. This right is important to all children and is especially important

to children who are unaccompanied minors in detention.

Children should be

advised of their rights in the asylum process and provided with access

to independent legal advice and representation to ensure that their wishes

are heard in this process.

All people in detention

including children should be included in the decision-making processes

that affect their community.

1. In

using the word child in this submission we are using it as defined in

the Convention on the Rights of the Child ie all persons aged under 18

years of age.

2. 15/4/02





5. UNHCR, Refugee Children: Guidelines on Protection and

Care,, 17/4/02

6. ibid

7. ibid

















16. M McCain & F Mustard, reversing the Real Brain

Drain: Early Years Student Final Report, Founders Network Canada, April


17. Woomera Lawyers Groups, Personal Communication with

YWCA members.

18. id

19. UNHCR, Refugee Children: Guidelines on Protection

and Care,, 17/4/02


Updated 9 January 2003.