Just when you think the treatment of children in detention could not be more repugnant, this happens.


Trigger warning: This post deals with alleged child sexual abuse and self-harm, and may be distressing for some readers.


The inquiry into children in immigration detention today heard claims of sexual abuse against children by staff on Nauru, Yahoo News reports.

Former Save the Children case worker Kirsty Diallo told the public hearing today that a 16-year-old boy had been sexually assaulted by a cleaner on the island country last year.

Oliver Laughland of The Guardian reported on those claims last month, saying at the time witness accounts had revealed that “a cleaner employed by the detention centre manager Transfield Services grabbed the genitals of an asylum seeker boy”.

But the inquiry today heard the following further details, according to Alex McKinnon of Junkee:

“The sixteen-year-old boy was near the toilet-box and there was a male cleaner on his own in the centre…he touched the young boy’s genitals, and then grabbed his own genitals and said ‘jiggy-jig’… at that point guards were alerted because the young person was screaming out and had kicked at the cleaner”.

Ms Diallo also said at the inquiry in Sydney she had oberserved ‘flirtatious behaviour’ between guards and young girls. The Junkee says the inquiry heard:

“On occasions I observed adolescent girls engaged in what I would describe as flirtatious behaviour with adult male guards, and I also had a colleague report to me that he had observed an adult male guard stroking a fifteen-year-old girl’s hair”.

According to Yahoo News, Diallo said there was nothing to prevent child abuse in detention on Nauru. No working with children checks or local child protection legislation were in place, she said.

Previously, Mamamia wrote:

She was three years old and she suffered from epilepsy, but they took her medication away.

Others had their hearing aids or glasses removed.

Often, children harmed themselves — distressed, helpless, and denied specialised medical help.

These are just some of the shocking claims that emerged today during the third hearing of the Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into children in immigration detention.

Dr John Paul Sanggaran, who worked as a medical officer on Christmas Island last year, told the inquiry in Sydney today that detainee’s medications — including those of the three-year-old girl — were taken when they arrived at the island.

Dr Sanggaran and another doctor, Dr Grant Ferguson, also said at the public hearing that authorities often altered and downgraded their recommendations for the clinical treatment of detainees, Yahoo News reports.

Dr Sanggaran added that there were no no child psychologists or paediatricians on Christmas Island, the ABC reports.

Did the government try to cover up children’s mental health problems?

In other explosive news, a psychiatrist told today’s inquiry the Federal government attempted to cover up children’s mental health problems.

Psychiatrist Dr Peter Young, who was compelled to attend the public hearing, told the inquiry in Sydney: ‘It is quite clear we have got a large number of children with significant mental distress and disorder in this population’, Rebecca Barrett reports for the ABC.


Dr Young, who was mental health services director at detention centre service provider International Health and Mental Services (IHMS) until earlier this month, said IHMS had provided a report to the Immigration department but that the reaction was “negative”.

He said the department “reacted with alarm and have asked us to withdraw these figures from our reporting,” the ABC reports.

Dr Young also said there had been 128 cases of self-harm involving child detainees over 15 months, according to the ABC. That figure did not include Nauru.

Watch a live-stream of the inquiry below:

Refugee spokesperson for Amnesty International Australia, Graeme McGregor, told Mamamia the revelations were concerning.

“We’re very concerned at statements from a former IHMS official that the Department requested the removal of statistics on the mental health damage done to children. If true, the Government’s secretive asylum seeker policies have reached disturbing new lows,” Mr McGregor said.
“The damage done to children’s mental health by prolonged and harsh detention does nothing to protect our borders or deter boat arrivals.”

Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs told reporters this morning: “The inhumanity, the cruelty of these processes is very apparent and when it’s repeated without any conditions attached by all of these medical experts.”

“As Australians we have to ask, have we gone too far?,” she asked.

But the Immigraion Minister, Scott Morrison, appeared on the ABC’s 7:30 last night and attacked Triggs’ credentials.

“She herself is not a doctor and we have medical people who are there and provide that care on a daily basis,” Mr Morrision said.

“These are difficult environments and appropriate care is provided by our people.”

Mr Morrison also hit back at criticism from a group of prominent religious leaders in Australia, which yesterday accused the country’s government of “state-sanctioned child abuse.”

The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce accused Immigration Minister Scott Morrison of forsaking his duty of care to the young in a report released yesterday, Yahoo News reports.

“These children are held like animals in conditions that are inhumane, interrogated without support or representation, shipped around the country and offshore in the middle of the night, and denied basic rights, including education,”  Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce chair Peter Catt said.

“Given that the government continues to ignore irrefutable independent evidence from health and legal experts about the plight of these children we have no hesitation in labelling this what it is — state-sanctioned child abuse,” Mr Catt said.


CEO of the Taskforce Misha Coleman told the ABC children in detention were ‘suffering everything from untreated sexual infections to tuberculosis.’

“They’re biting themselves; they’re banging their heads into furniture due to their appalling state of mental health,” she said.

A spokesperson for Morrison called the allegations ‘shocking and offensive’.

“The government takes the protection of children very seriously and is committed to ensuring they are protected from exploitation and abuse,” she said in a statement.

Mr Morrison will appear at a fourth hearing for the children in detention inquiry — which is examining the safety of children on Nauru, the impact of long-term detention on children, and the conditions of detention —  in August.

Australia, despite having ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the UN Refugees Convention, is the only industrialised country in the world with a policy of mandatory detention of children for immigration reasons.

 Click through these newly-released drawings by children in detention, courtesy of the Australian Human Rights Commission:


If this post brings up issues for you, or you just need someone to talk to, please call Lifeline on 131 114. You can also visit the Lifeline website here and the Beyond Blue website here.

Bravehearts are an organisation that help the victims of child sex abuse. You can find more information about them here.