Busting the myths: Children in detention

My littlest is trying his absolute hardest to walk. Pulling himself up to standing on wobbly legs and hanging on to tables, chairs and our legs to take his first steps with a huge grin. 

If he's not testing out his chubby feet, he's crawling all over our house and garden exploring. Growing, playing and discovering the world.

All children should have the space and freedom to do this. It's a basic human right we all share, by virtue of being human. But not all children are free and safe. 

Australia currently holds about 800 children in mandatory closed immigration detention for indefinite periods, with no pathway to protection or settlement. 

This includes 186 children detained on NauruChildren and their families have been held on the mainland and on Christmas Island for, on average, one year and two months

Over 167 babies have been born in detention within the last 24 months.

These numbers are deeply horrifying. Hundreds of children locked up for years. I've written about conditions in detention for these children and families here

These conditions include families being held in 3m x 3m air-conditioned metal containers. There's only about 1 square metre of space for movement because of bunk-beds, cots and a sink in the rooms. It's humid and hot outside with no play equipment or shade for little ones to play. 

All the children are seriously distressed. Mentally and physically sick. Instead of crawling, playing, waving and clapping like my little one, they are locked up, and experience assault, sexual assault and self-harm. 

No child should be treated like this. No-one should be born in detention and live in dirty, crowded and dangerous detention facilities where their mental and physical health is destroyed. 

It's not right that we do this to hundreds of children, for years. 

There are things we can do, and I've written some practical ideas here.

We can read the Human Rights Commission's report, The Forgotten Children, and write to our leaders demanding they address the findings in this report. 

We can also think about how we talk about the issue in our everyday lives, and how language is used in the media. We can think about the words, myths and bias surrounding the way we talk about children in detention and asylum seekers.

They are not queue jumpers and criminals. Detaining children in detention does not stop the boats. There is simply no justification for treating children like this. It's illegal under our international legal obligations, and it's morally indefensible.

All these children in detention have the right to play, grow and be safe. Like my children. Like yours. It's the basic human right of all children. 

UNICEF Australia has developed some fantastic, short ideas about how to bust the myths surrounding children in detention and asylum seekers. How, in our everyday lives, we can contribute to the discussion and change some of the biased and incorrect language used. 

We can all make a difference. Today, and every day in the future, I want to look my two boys in the eye and know I did everything I could to stand up for other children just like them, being locked up by our country.

Here and here are some things you could do to, if you want. All our voices count.


  1. Fantastic post Pia! I honestly feel so frustrated in my conversations with others about the myths that surround this issue. So tired of hearing that they are all queue jumpers, criminals, and terrorists - the Murdoch press seem to love spewing out these lies in their trashy rags. It is a human rights issue and it's a disgrace that our country is now being watched by human rights groups. You've listed some really great resources and links here for us to do something proactive about this situation. Thank you so much.

    1. So glad it was useful, it's really frustrating to listen to some of the language flying around in the media and debates about the issue. Thanks for the positive feedback!

  2. Thank you so much for this Pia - the way that we treat people seeking asylum is deplorable.

  3. You're welcome Robyna glad it was useful!



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