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4 February 2016

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child - the body of 18 independent experts that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child - has issued a statement overnight that reminds the Australian Government of its obligation to protect the best interests of children who are a party to this week’s High Court decision.

For this group of children, considering their best interest means prioritising their immediate safety, education, access to adequate health care, their connection to their families and their communities and the assurance of knowing that they have a future.

UNICEF Australia calls on the Prime Minister and the Minister for Immigration to give urgent consideration to the best interests of each the 37 babies and 54 children who risk return to an environment that is likely to cause them further harm.

UNICEF Australia is encouraged that the Prime Minister has expressed the Government's intent to consider the individual circumstances of each case.  However, based on our global experience, we recognise that the recovery period for many of these children may be life-long and that even if children are showing positive signs of recovery, returning them to the same situation that caused them serious harm is likely to cause further harm.

The current situation indicates that the offshore processing and detention framework is a system in crisis, and one that causes crisis for children and their families. UNICEF Australia urges all parties to recognise the need to develop a workable, sustainable solution that prioritises the prevention of risky journeys for people, especially children. UNICEF Australia urges the Australian Government to work with governments, UN agencies and civil society across the region to develop a genuine regional cooperation agreement that puts the needs of children first. 

UNICEF Australia recognises that the intention of the Australian Government is to address and prevent people smuggling in the region because it undermines the human rights of the most vulnerable children.  It also undermines the international protection system. 

In doing so, UNICEF Australia urges the Government to put the interests of children first and ensure that Australia’s policies do not expose vulnerable children to further risk. UNICEF Australia also calls for stronger guarantees by all parties that children who are affected by Australia’s immigration and border protection policies can access essential services such as health care and education.