A last resort?
National Inquiry into Children in Immigration Detention
The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires
Australia to protect children's right to cultural identity, language and
religion. It places a responsibility on the Department to facilitate their
religious and cultural practices, such as worship, diet, health and hygiene.
Between 1999 and 2002, children in detention predominantly
came from three language groups - Arabic, Dari (Afghan Persian) and Farsi
(Modern Persian). Smaller numbers of children spoke Pashto, Singhalese,
Tamil and Turkish. The major religious groups were Shi'a Muslim, Sunni
Muslim, Christian and Sabian Mandaean.
The Department and ACM tried to accommodate the religious
and cultural needs of children, although the detention environment and
the remoteness of some of the facilities created some difficulties. The
Inquiry found that:
- most centres reserved space for public prayers and
services and children could also pray in their private accommodation
- clergy were generally allowed to visit detention
centres, however, it was difficult for many to travel to remote centres
- detainees were free to appoint their own representatives
to conduct religious services
- parents were allowed to provide religious teaching
to their children and, in some cases religious texts and religious instruction
by external authorities were provided
- certain special cultural events and Muslim and Christian
religious festivals were celebrated
- efforts were made to provide culturally appropriate
food for detainees, such as halal food for Muslim detainees.
Muslim prayer room at Port Hedland, June 2002
There are conflicting groups
forced into close proximity with each other that leads to tensions
… Religious tensions that may have caused people to flee in
the first place are part of everyday life in the detention centres.
Lutheran Community Care, submission
to the Inquiry
In some cases children were detained with people from
the same religious groups that had persecuted them in their homeland.
Sabian Mandaean children, in particular, experienced some harassment and
bullying from other child and adult detainees. The Department took some
general measures to try to protect children and families from such harassment,
although there was little evidence of a comprehensive preventative approach.
The Commonwealth has not denied
children in detention the right to religion, culture and language
to the extent of breaching the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
However, the Inquiry is concerned that the detention of children,
in remote centres and often long-term, limited their ability to
fully enjoy those rights.