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Submission to National Inquiry
into Children in Immigration Detention from
the YWCA of Australia
About the YWCA
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
About the Women's
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
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.
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
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
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
- the conditions
under which children are detained;
- health, including
mental health, development and disability;
- guardianship issues;
- security practices
The impact of detention
on the well-being and healthy development of children, including their
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.
The YWCA of Australia
has previously joined with many other non-government organisations to
protest the treatment of children  in detention .
In a resolution passed
at the 2000 National Triennial Convention of the YWCA of Australia said
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
- access to asylum;
- adequate housing;
- physical and
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
As at 2 February
2002 the Department reports that there are 141 female children in detention
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 . 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
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
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 .
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.
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 .
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 .
There have historically been reports of the sexual abuse of children in
detention centres  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
.  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
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 .
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 .  A process that could be
supported as part of a community release program for unaccompanied children
to foster families, or families.
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  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. 
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. 
'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 . 
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.
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.
Care, www.unhcr.ch, 17/4/02
Drain: Early Years Student Final Report, Founders Network Canada, April
and Care, www.unhcr.ch, 17/4/02
Updated 9 January 2003.