UNICEF: New childhood detention report confirms systemic failure to protect vulnerable refugee children

SYDNEY, 17 December 2016 – The long-awaited ‘Making Children Safer’ report has confirmed again that detention isn’t safe for children, but also highlights important questions regarding the future of refugee policy in Australia.
The independent Child Protection Panel reviewed 242 alleged incidents of child abuse and found that only half of those matters received an adequate response.  Panel members further identified that between 2008 and 2015 that there may have been a staggering 1,211 possible incidents of child abuse.
“The Australian Government has a duty of care to protect children in immigration detention centers from exploitation and abuse. In practical terms this means having clear and comprehensive procedures to identify, document and refer child protection concerns for thorough investigation,” said Amy Lamoin, Head of Policy and Advocacy, UNICEF Australia.
UNICEF Australia acknowledges that the Australian Government has taken measures to strengthen its child protection and risk prevention frameworks throughout 2016.  However, over the last 15 years successive governments have not only chosen to detain vulnerable refugee children in onshore and offshore facilities, but they have done so without adequate investment in safeguarding.   
“UNICEF Australia has welcomed the Government’s recent announcement to re-settle refugees on Nauru and Manus Island in the United States of America. However, the lack of criminal investigation and convictions in relation to incidents of child abuse on Nauru raises questions over how children who have been subjected to abuse will access justice and reparation for the serious harm caused to them.”
“While the Nauruan Government has made serious efforts over the last two years to strengthen its child protection system, the most fundamental building blocks have been missing. Alarmingly, less than 1 per cent of all cases of child abuse reviewed by the panel resulted in criminal convictions,” Ms Lamoin added.
“As Australia continues to explore options for bi-lateral arrangements for refugee processing and resettlement, any future arrangements must be with countries that have an adequate child protection, education and health systems, so that asylum seeker children can recover, and have healthy development.”
“The real question now is where to from here for Australia’s refugee policy? After all that we have learned over the last fifteen years, I can say unequivocally that it is impossible to call any framework a success when it causes severe harm to children.  As a long-standing leader in the region Australia has a key role in improving protection possibilities and the quality of protection for the most vulnerable people.”
UNICEF Australia welcomes the panel’s proposed strategies to improve child protection and strengthen the responses of the Australian Government to incidents involving children. However UNICEF Australia maintains that detention can never be in the best interest of the child and calls on the Australia Government to end the detention of children for the purpose of assessing their migration status.
For further information and interviews, please contact:
Nicole Mackey, UNICEF Australia, 0403 964 334, nmackey@unicef.org.au
Notes to Editors
The ‘Making Children Safer’ report can be found here
Some of the key findings identified in the report are:
  • The response to over half the reported incidents of child abuse in Australian immigration detention was inadequate
  • The immigration department “cannot be assured on either the number, nature or severity of the reported incidents of child abuse.”
  • Premature closure of child abuse investigations and miscategorisation of incidents
  • Department and service providers often lacked the capability to effectively respond to complex incidents
  • Incident reports often tended to be very brief, with inadequate description of what was reported or observed
  • Department and service providers often lacked the capability to effectively respond to complex incidents
  • Less than 1 per cent of all cases of child abuse resulted in criminal convictions.
UNICEF promotes the rights and wellbeing of every child, in everything we do. Together with our partners, we work in 190 countries and territories to translate that commitment into practical action, focusing special effort on reaching the most vulnerable and excluded children, to the benefit of all children, everywhere.
For more information about UNICEF Australia and its work visit: www.unicef.org.au
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