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As of today, it is illegal to report child abuse at Nauru.

When a government threatens to imprison people for speaking about what they see in government-funded institutions — that doesn’t look much like a democracy.

As of today, it is illegal to report child abuse on Nauru.

In fact, it is illegal to report pretty much anything that happens in offshore detention centres.

And as of today, reporting anything seen in detention centres could see people go to jail for up to two years.

That is a scary, scary thing.

According to The Guardian, an amendment to the Australian Border Force Act prohibiting “entrusted persons” from speaking about “protected information,” has come into effect overnight.

manus island
Temporary regional processing on Manus Island. Image: Flickr DIBP Images

Basically, that means that anyone who is contracted by the government to work in offshore detention centres can’t say squat about what’s happening behind the barbed wire fences – no matter how awful the stories might be.

This umbrella includes doctors, nurses, aid workers, and security personnel – people with a distinct responsibility to protect those within the centres. Professionals who have an obligation to report abuse should it occur.

Nauru
Nauru. Image: Flickr DIBP
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Now maybe this wouldn’t be so much of an issue if abuse and child abuse specifically hasn’t been an issue on the island. But there is a history of abuse on Nauru and that abuse has only been exposed because of the people who were prepared to speak out.

For example, former workers on Nauru wrote an open letter earlier this year saying that they knew of an 11-year-old girl who was sexually assaulted and was self-harming.

Earlier this month, Professor David Isaacs, a detention centre paeditrician told ABC of the horrific conditions he witnessed on Nauru.

“There’s 100 metres to the nearest toilet facilities and no water in the tents so sometimes people won’t even go across the open ground at night because they’re scared of being sexually assaulted by the guards, which has happened,” he said.

Nauru
A tent on Nauru. Image: Flickr DIBP.
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He also told of a six-year-old girl who tried to hang herself with a makeshift noose, and a 15-year-old boy who sewed his own lips shut in protest.

The Moss Review released earlier this year found a number of cases of women and children being raped, threatened or sexually harassed by detention centre staff and other detainees.

Related: More evidence surfaces of abuse allegations on Nauru.

And this is the actual life-saving information we risk losing today.

Today, more than 40 detention centre staff — including doctors, aid workers, teachers, and social workers — signed a letter pledging to continue to report abuse.

“We have advocated, and will continue to advocate, for the health of those for whom we have a duty of care, despite the threats of imprisonment, because standing by and watching sub-standard and harmful care, child abuse and gross violations of human rights is not ethically justifiable,” the letter stated.

Open AustraliaOpen letter regarding the Australian Border Force Act 2015n Border Force Act A4 Version

“We are aware that in publishing this letter we may be prosecuted under the Border Force Act and we challenge the department to prosecute so that these issues may be discussed in open court and in the full view of the Australian public.”

The letter states that the government has known for years about the abhorrent treatment of people in detention and failed to act.

With the introduction of this new legislation, the government will be assisted — unchallenged — in turning a blind eye.

Dr Isaacs called the new Border Force Act “frightening” and “almost fascist”. He is right.

This Act is proof our government does not want to be interfered with by those who elect it.

It does not want its policy ‘weighed down’ by basic humanitarian principles and standards to which the public holds it accountable.

One of the privileges of democracy is being able to question the actions of your government.

And going to prison for calling out horrors committed by those in power does not sit well with me. Does it sit well with you?

What do you think about the government’s new Act?

Related content:

It’s time to give kids in detention their childhoods back.

These men are supposed to protect our asylum seekers, but they’re doing the opposite.

Sarah Hanson-Young: “No child should be exposed to these horrific conditions.”

A teenage girl was sexually assaulted in a detention centre. Now she has attempted suicide.

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