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Submission to the National

Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention from

the Women's Rights Action

Network of Australia (WRANA)

1. Summary

The Women's Rights

Action Network of Australia ("WRANA") is gravely concerned for

the well being and human rights of children held in immigration detention

in Australia, both as unaccompanied minors and children with accompanying


2. Women's Rights

Action Network of Australia

WRANA was established

in 1998 to facilitate Australian activism for the promotion and protection

of women's human rights through:

  • education and

    training to ensure human rights mechanisms are accessible, understandable

    and relevant in the lives of women in Australia;

  • training enable

    the participation of women in Australia in human rights machineries;

  • advocacy for the

    promotion and protection of women's human rights within Australia;

  • documentation

    and raising awareness of women's human rights violations and abuses

    within Australian society.

Members of the Women's

Rights Action Network - Australia endorse the principles of the United

Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against

Women and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and work towards

the creation of a society which respects and protects all human rights.

WRANA recognises

the indivisibility of human rights, and the need to develop informed critiques

on the current human rights system, particularly relating to the capacity

of the human rights framework to respond to the diversity of women's experiences.

3. International

Human Rights Standards

Australia is a signatory

to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the Convention on the Elimination

of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the International Covenant

on Civil and Political Rights, the International Covenant on Economic

Social and Cultural Rights, the Convention Against Torture and the Refugee

Convention and its Protocol.

Pursuant to these

Conventions, children in Australia are endowed with the following rights:

  • protection and

    humanitarian assistance as asylum seekers (article 22, CROC);

  • protection from

    violence, abuse, mistreatment and exploitation (article 19, CROC);

  • health (article

    24, CROC; ICESCR, article 12);

  • standard of living

    adequate for physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development

    (article 27, CROC);

  • education (article

    28, CROC);

  • privacy (article

    16, CROC);

  • recreation and

    play (article 31, CROC);

  • care by parents

    and non separation from parents (article 7, CROC);

  • protection of

    the family (article 10, ICESCR).

Special measures

are required for children with mental or physical disabilities (article

23, CROC).

Pursuant to article

37(b) of CROC, detention of children must be a measure of last resort

for the shortest possible period.

These rights extend

to children in Australia whether they are citizens or not.

Moreover, women in

Australia are entitled to appropriate services in connection with pregnancy,

confinement and the post natal period, as well as adequate nutrition during

pregnancy and lactation (article 12(2), Convention on the Elimination

of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women).

Further, the international

community has recognised the additional barriers faced by girl children

(Beijing Platform for Action, Section L).

4. Experiences

of Children in Detention

WRANA refers to and

relies upon the accounts of women and children in immigration detention

provided in the Kids in Detention Story submission to the HREOC inquiry.

The experiences recorded

in these accounts demonstrate that children in detention experience the

following harms:

  • deprivation of


  • exposure to violence
  • absent or unsatisfactory

    developmental opportunities

  • inadequate education
  • poor health services
  • substandard nutrition

    and hygiene

  • enforced separation

    from family members

  • pervasive despair,

    frustration, family breakdown

  • self harm
  • degrading, punitive

    and harsh treatment by prison staff

WRANA notes that

the human rights of women as mothers are violated by inadequate ante natal

and post natal care; the violations of these rights have direct impact

on the well being of children born in such circumstances.

WRANA is gravely

concerned that by detaining children who are seeking asylum, Australia

is in breach of its international obligations in the following respects:

  • Australia fails

    to protect children seeking asylum;

  • It denies humanitarian

    assistance to children seeking asylum;

  • It inflicts upon

    and exposes children to violence, abuse, mistreatment and exploitation;

  • It denies children

    an adequate standard of health;

  • It denies children

    a standard of living adequate for their physical, mental, spiritual,

    moral and social development;

  • It denies children

    access to an adequate standard of education;

  • It invades children's


  • It fails to provide

    children meaningful opportunities for recreation and play;

  • It separates

    children from their families and actively contributes to family breakdown;

  • It denies mothers

    an adequate standard of health care before, during and after pregnancy.

WRANA concludes that

the current policies and practices of detaining children seeking asylum

create an environment which is positively harmful to children's rights,

interests and development.

Detention is contrary

to the paramount principle of the best interests of child and is disproportionate

to the ostensible object of an orderly and secure immigration system.

In this regard, WRANA

expresses its concern about the conflict between the role of the Minister

for Immigration as guardian for unaccompanied minors and his role as the

Minister at whose direction detention centres are established and operated.

In WRANA's view, the Minister is not fulfilling his responsibilities as

a good guardian.

WRANA is further

concerned that the special needs of girl children in relation to reproductive

and sexual health, privacy, gender sensitive trauma counselling, culturally

appropriate play and education, protection from sexual assault and the

threat of sexual assault, and culturally sensitive health service provision.

5. Recommendations

WRANA makes the following


  • the release of

    all children and their families from immigration detention;

  • the introduction

    of a processing system which detains asylum seekers for a minimum period

    for the purposes of health and security checks only;

  • the immediate

    closure of Woomera detention centre and relocation of processing centres;

  • improved provision

    of health, education and recreational services to children in processing

    centres and after release into the community;

  • access to processing

    centres by the public and the media;

  • the provision

    of health services to mothers seeking asylum during pregnancy, childbirth

    and breastfeeding, equivalent to the services enjoyed by other women

    in Australia.

6. Conclusion

In WRANA's assessment,

Australia's treatment of child asylum seekers is inappropriate and unsatisfactory:

  • Australia is

    in breach of its international human rights obligations;

  • Australia is failing

    to care for children already traumatised and vulnerable and is compounding

    their suffering through detention upon arrival in Australia;

  • mandatory detention

    is in no circumstances acceptable and an alternative must be established

    without delay.

Women's Rights Action

Network of Australia

7 May 2002


Updated 9 January 2003.