Over the last five years asylum seeker numbers, which include families with children, have been on the rise in Australia. The Australian Human Rights Commission [AHRC] (2014, p. 29) claims that Australia breaches International Human Rights Law, due to factors such as regional processing, lack of proper resources and mandatory detention with no set duration. The current management of asylum seekers in detention may be having a detrimental impact on children physically, emotionally and mentally.
Australian Law should align to the Convention on the Rights of the Child when considering children in detention. Research shows that children are impacted negatively both short and long term as a result of detention. It has been investigated by the AHRC (2014) and also stated by Zwi (2015, p. 2) that children suffer these impacts differently depending on their stage of life. It is claimed that chronic stress is the cause of these negative factors and the resulting hormone response can lead to mental, physiological and behavioural issues (Zwi, 2015, pp. 2-3).
The most concerning should be the mental impact, the AHRC (2014, p. 29) reports that of all children in detention 34 percent had been determined to be suffering from a serious mental health issue. For those in the early childhood years it has been shown that due to distress or deprivation, developmental consequences exist at this crucial stage of brain development (AHRC, 2014, p. 32; Zwi, 2015, p. 2). For teenagers however, the effects can be worse, the AHRC (2014, p. 33) reports that teenagers are at a high risk of mental illness, emotional distress and self-harm. Likewise, Zwi (2015, p. ) states post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression could also be associated with teenagers in detention.
The absence of a time limit on detention can further exacerbate these issues, as of March 2014, children had been detained for 231 days on average (AHRC, 2014, p. 24). Regional processing on Christmas Island and Nauru also have potential physical implications. The AHRC (2014, p. 31) found that the living conditions, particularly on Christmas Island, are both harsh and cramped, often poorly designed considering the environmental factors such as the heat. The AHRC (2014, p. 0) summarised when pointing out ‘locked detention environments harm children, and children need to be removed from these environments as soon as possible. This is an urgent requirement for the health and wellbeing of these children. ’.
These reported negative impacts indicate a requirement for action to be taken to rectify the management and occurrence of children in detention. There has been a range of proposed recommendations put forward to the Australian Government, some of which will address the rate of children in detention and others that will be concerned with the management of current and past child detainees. The first of these recommendations made by the AHRC (2014, p. 37) insists that all families and their children in Australian and Nauruan Detention Centres must be released into Australian community arrangements.
To limit the impacts caused by regional processing the AHRC (2014, p. 37) also recommend that no child or parent should be processed at a regional centre unless strict conditions are met and they further advocate the closure of detention facilities on Christmas Island. Zwi (2015, p. ) notes that whilst there are no magic solutions to mental health issues, providing competent services will assist, equally the AHRC (2014, p. 38) suggests such services as HoNOSCA should be routinely and consistently utilised for screening. Furthermore, the AHRC (2014, p. 38) recommends that all child detainees, from 1992 till current, have access to government funded mental health support and legal advice, along with educational support for those who had been denied previously.
These views are similarly supported by Zwi (2015, p. ) who points out that high-quality and accessible services, inclusive of health care, education and housing can positively impact a child’s perception of the world. Recommendations are also presented on policy, including the provision for time limits on detention through the Migration Act 1958, and that the Convention on the Rights of the Child should become applicable Australian Law (AHRC, 2014, pp. 37,39). These recommendations would assist in negating the impacts detention has, and has had on children in Australia as well as in regional processing facilities.
It is clear that significant mental, physical and emotional impacts are triggered by the mismanagement and mistreatment of children in detention. Amongst those are depression, chronic stress and self-harming behaviour, in part due to detention periods with no time limit and poorly resourced detention facilities on Christmas Island and Nauru. Solutions come in the form of immediate release into communities, mental health assessments with ongoing support in addition to the closing of all regional processing centres. It is crucial that Australian Law be aligned to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.