Impact on Children

The hardest part of being in detention is that I am dying every second of my life in here. I don’t feel alive (15 year old child detainee, 2016).

Every year I wish to get out of detention. I make wish on my birthday day. I have 3 birthdays in detention. Can you imagine it? (9 year old child detainee, 2016).

Whoever became sick, medical used to come to us, with a briefcase, and tell us to drink water (15 year old child detainee, 2016).

I am always sad, because I am long time stay in detention (6 year old child detainee, 2016).

Children who are currently or have previously lived in immigration detention facilities have consistently advised ChilOut (and others) of the detrimental impacts of detention to their physical and mental health. They report high levels of anxiety, lack of ability to concentrate or play in the natural environmentfrustration by being referred to by their boat ID number in place of their name, and instances of physical and sexual assault.  













 Source: With thanks to the End Child Detention Coalition.

Here are some alarming facts and information about immigration detention and the impact it is having on children:

Living Conditions

The conditions which children face on a daily basis in detention also contribute to their overall poor mental health. At the Nauru Detention Centre for example, children are not afforded privacy as their tents are shared by 18-20 people. In addition, the ability of parents to adequately care for their children’s needs is heavily impaired and 60% of parents report feeling depressed ‘most or all of the time’. In some cases, this has manifested in infants becoming disengaged, appearing depressed and averting their gaze from their mothers. Owing to its location, the Nauru Detention Centre exposes children to high levels of dust due to phosphate mininghigh levels of humidity with a lack of air-conditioning in all tents.

Health Care and Treatment

Children also lack adequate health care and treatment in detention. Children have advised ChilOut of the dismissive medical treatment they continue to receive in detention. This includes being given “two Panadol tablets and a glass of water” when consulting a doctor. The Australian Human Rights Commission has recognised the limited access to “specialist health service in Nauru” with no employed Paediatrician to specifically address the health needs of children.

Sexual and Physical Abuse

Children are at a significant risk of sexual and physical abuse within detention centres. Children have alerted many organisations that they have been “hassled” by guards patrolling the detention centres. Broadspectrum, the primary service provider for the Nauru Detention Centre, had received 67 allegations of child abuse as at 30 May 2015. Thirty of these claims have involved detention staff. ChilOut believes that, where children are exposed to such abuse, coupled with their deprivation of liberty, the Australian Government is breaching Article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. This states that ‘in all actions concerning children…the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration’.


A large body of research outlines the highly detrimental impact of detention on children’s development, psychological and physical well-being. It also outlines the hindering of educational opportunities. A 2014 investigation conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission concluded that 34% of all children in detention are afflicted with mental health illnesses that would trigger an immediate psychiatric referral were they in Australia. Sadly, children are left to deal with the consequences of such mental anguish long after they are permitted to live outside detention. These ongoing mental health issues include, but are not limited to: anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, nightmares, self-harming and developmental delay. 

Further Information

For further information about the impact of immigration detention on children, see AHRC, ‘The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry Into Children In Immigration Detention 2014’. You can also download ChilOut’s submissions to the Australian Human Rights Commission and other government inquiries in Our Work.

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