Australian Paediatricians Agree That Detaining Refugee Kids Is Child Abuse

Facilities at the Manus Island detention centre, shown in a handout photo provided by the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship, from 2012.

Most Australian paediatricians believe mandatory detention of asylum seeker children is child abuse, according to research published in the Medical Journal of Australia.

However, many of the child doctors have poor knowledge of health screening and Medicare eligibility of such children.

People aged under 20 years represent about 40% of Australia’s refugee intake and they have “unique medical, cultural, social and linguistic characteristics”.

A questionnaire answered by 139 Australian paediatricians revealed that over 80% agreed with the Australian Medical Association’s position that mandatory detention of children constitutes child abuse, and disagreed with offshore processing.

However, less than half of the paediatricians knew which subgroups of asylum seeker children were eligible for Medicare or had had pre-departure HIV and tuberculosis screening, or that the average stay in refugee camps before settlement in Australia was more than 10 years.

Only 60% knew that the Minister for Immigration was the legal guardian of detained unaccompanied minors.

“We found gaps in paediatricians’ knowledge about Medicare eligibility,” says David Isaacs, a paediatrician at The Children’s Hospital at Westmead and Clinical Professor at The University of Sydney.

“Medicare rights are held by all refugees and by asylum seekers who hold bridging visas to which such rights are attached.

“Poor knowledge of hospital fee-waiver programs could limit access to hospital care … and health professionals might not be referring asylum seekers as they otherwise would.”

Australian health care professionals needed better training and education about asylum seekers’ rights and processes in order to provide the best health care possible, the researchers say.

Paediatricians could also be important advocates for their patients’ rights, they argued.

“All of these children (currently held in detention) should be released from detention immediately, irrespective of their date of arrival”, they wrote

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