A last resort?
National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention
It was like a new life for us
we went out of the centre.
Teenage boy, Perth focus group
Rest, play, recreational activities and the opportunity
to take part in artistic and cultural events, as set out in the Convention
on the Rights of the Child, are very important for the healthy development
Participating in games and play can help improve a
child's social and personal skills, such as negotiation and sharing. For
children in detention, it can help them cope with past experiences of
trauma and violence and improve their mental health.
Although some efforts were made by the Department to provide
play and recreation activities, the detention environment - often in remote
locations, poorly grassed, surrounded by razor wire and subject to riots
and disturbances - can stifle a child's desire to play and, therefore,
their mental health and development. The longer a child is detained, the
more serious the effects.
The Inquiry found that:
- there were no constraints on children regarding
leisure time or access to outdoor areas. However, children in separation
detention in Port Hedland had limited access to play outdoors
- by 2002 all centres had playground equipment for
children, however, it took two years before it was installed at Woomera
- toys and sporting equipment were generally provided,
although at times of overcrowding they were often insufficient to meet
the needs of children in the centres
- access to televisions and videos varied between
centres but was generally available.
Comments were often made by detainees regarding
the absence of greenery and how this contributed to them feeling
sad … On an excursion to St Michael’s School in Woomera,
when I took the children to the oval the whole group … began
laughing with delight and ran directly to the oval … They
behaved as if they’d never seen grass before … they
did not want to leave …
Former Woomera Activities Officer,
submission to the Inquiry
Organised recreational activities are also important
in contributing to a child's healthy development. The Inquiry found that:
- each centre had a recreational program in place
although the quality varied between centres. Although individual staff
made efforts, understaffing and a lack of resources meant that the needs
of children in Woomera were not always met. Children held in Villawood
and Maribyrnong had more recreational opportunities because of nearby
community groups and facilities.
- excursions were generally arranged on an ad hoc
basis, although there were periods when no excursions were offered and
in some centres excursions were often cancelled at late notice. However,
concerted efforts to offer regular excursions began in some centres
in late 2001.
The Commonwealth provided children
in detention with sufficient opportunities for play and recreation
to meet its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the
Child. However, recreational opportunities are closely linked to
a child’s right to enjoy – to the maximum extent possible
– healthy development and recovery from past trauma. The programs
and facilities provided in detention failed to meet these obligations,
resulting in a breach of the Convention.