Child detention: the time to end this policy is right now.

POSTED IN Blog, Top Stories 27.07.2010

It is deeply embarrassing to me that it has taken the Lib-Con coalition to start the process of ending the imprisonment of children in immigration detention centres. We should never have introduced the practice in the first place. The termination of this policy is long overdue and it is my hope that we will finally see the end of a policy I have vigorously campaigned against for the last three years.

When child detention legislation was introduced to Parliament in 1998, we were promised by the then government that it would be a temporary measure and used specifically in cases of emergency only.  Families were to be detained for no more than a few days and only if they were due to be removed from the country. MPs voted for this policy under this pretence; however this clearly has not been the case over the past three years. Children have been separated from their parents and detained for periods of weeks, sometimes months.

This type of policy should never have happened under a Labour government and I continuously lobbied former Prime Minister to end this practice for a host of reasons. Detaining an individual who has committed no crime for an indefinite period of time is bad enough, but when this individual is a child, you have to question the reasoning behind policy such as this.

Being incarcerated in these detention centres is also proven to have a detrimental effect on the physical and mental wellbeing of the children subject to this procedure. The whole experience of having police knocking down the door at night, being removed from your home and placed in a detention centre in the middle of nowhere leaves a devastating mental scar in minds of some of these children. There have been reports of children suffering from repeated bedwetting, recurring nightmares, self-harming and worse. There was a case of a child becoming mute due to the ordeal of being detained then later released, and despite counselling he still had what were described as ‘huge problems’.

I have personally visited the Yarl’s Wood detention facility and have seen first-hand the conditions that detainees have had to endure during their period of detention. In particular, the poor standard of healthcare on offer to detainees was enough to see that this really was no place for children.

Another factor of child detention which is sometimes too easily overlooked is how much of a disruption the experience is to the life of a child. With children being held up to months at a time, the impact that this can have on their education as well as the general development of social relationships is significant. This is particularly true of the very young. The inadequate educational framework in place in these detention centres means that children ranging from pre-teens to teenagers lumped together in the same class. This leaves children at a massive disadvantage when and if they are freed from detention.

In planning to abolish child detention, the coalition government has righted a great wrong from its predecessor. They will also be embarking on a policy that I have campaigned on for years and I find it extremely regrettable that my previous Labour government could not do away with child detention sooner.

However, the Con-Dems still need to do more to turn this aspiration to end child detention into a reality. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last week declared that the whole of Yarl’s Wood would be closed, only for it later to be qualified that only the family unit of Yarl’s Wood will be closed. The detention of families has not been proven to be effective whilst countries such as Belgium and Australia have already been able to find viable alternatives to child detention. Therefore in spite of yet another gaffe from Nick Clegg, the permanent closure of facilities such as Yarl’s Wood must surely be the ultimate aim for this government.

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  1. Will Fletcher says:

    I totally agree. I found it totally regrettable that the Labour government wouldn’t end this practice and we must at least applaud the current government for taking action.