Tears for the Forgotten Children

The front cover image and the image below have been taken from the AHRC’s The Forgotten Children report.

Most families with young children proudly display their artwork on the fridge for all
to admire. Often the drawing will include a smiling sun beaming down on a happy scene. Our front page image, drawn last year by a primary-school-aged child living in detention on Christmas Island, depicts a horrifying reality. Nothing but tears and a fence, arms outstretched. Let’s hope people will be so moved by this image they will stick it
on the fridge and remember the cries of the children no one can hear.

“I am 12 years old and my life is really bad and deth [death] I leave in a jail. Why I have a bad life. I think to stay in the room for ever when I go because if I stay in room no eat and no drink. I will die. Better I kill myself.”

The Australian Human Rights Commission received this letter as part of its Inquiry Questionnaire for Children and Parents in Detention last year. The author, a girl in detention on Christmas Island, had not eaten for three days and was refusing to leave her room. Her mother was on 24-hour suicide watch at the time of the Inquiry team visit in July 2014.

It is heartbreaking to think that a report looking into the health and wellbeing of children in mandatory closed immigration detention has become politicised to the point that the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, has been vilified by our prime minister.

Ms Triggs urged all Australians to read the report; it is easily accessible on the AHRC website. While detractors have argued that the report shows a bias in favour
of children and critical of government, it is, after all, the report of the Human Rights Commission.

The report’s introduction concludes with these words: “Ultimately we found that 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.”

The report uses as its measure, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and argues repeatedly that Australia is in breach of its obligations under this convention. Put starkly in its findings, Australia is in clear violation of international human rights law and the physical and emotional impact of prolonged detention is unambiguous.

“A number of children have been deeply traumatised by their time in detention resulting in post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares and self-harming,” clinicians from the Children’s Hospital at Westmead Refugee Clinic wrote in their report to the Inquiry.

Imagine family life where you are unable to cook for your children; make decisions about their education; accompany them to the park or school; decide what health service they will receive or when? It is little wonder that children lose respect for their parents, and parents lose hope and confidence?

“My children think I am a liar for bringing them here when I had told them we were coming to a safe new country,” wrote a father of three.

The Trigg report gives a voice to the voiceless. Read it for yourself and help ensure these small voices are heard.

The Forgotten Children report can be found at www.humanrights.gov.au.

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