Australia Detaining Child Asylum Seekers in Violation of International Laws

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By Reissa Su | April 2, 2014 11:02 AM EST

Australia may be violating international law for detaining children in its asylum seeker detention centre. The Australian Human Rights Commission has conducted an investigation into the country's practice of holding refugee children in detention facilities in March.

According to Gillian Triggs, president of the Human Rights Commission, Australia may be in breach of international law. In a visit to Australia's detention facility in Christmas Island last March, Ms Triggs said that international law is clear when it comes to children being detained. She said child asylum seekers may be detained only for health and security checks and not for a longer period.

Under Australian law, asylum seekers who have arrived by boat are placed in detention until they are processed. Authorities will have to verify their claims and determine their refugee status. The law applies to people of all ages, young or old.

According to reports, Australia's Immigration Department has revealed towards the end of February that about 929 children were in detention in Australia and other alternative places. In the offshore detention facility in Nauru, there were 177 child detainees.  Asylum seekers spend about eight months on average in Australia's detention facilities.

The Convention of the Rights of the Child state, "the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time." This means that detaining a child should be treated as a "last resort" and they should be released in the shortest possible time.

Australia has signed the Convention on the Rights of the Child which imposes guidelines for taking care and upholding the rights of children.  Based on ABC's investigation and analysis, Australia may be in breach of children's rights.

The United Nations' guidelines on the detention of asylum seekers also clearly states that children should not be detained.

Human Rights Commission lawyer John Howell said Australia's detention policies in general were arbitrary and in breach of the civil rights agreement. 

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