Australia breached the rights of Indonesian children it jailed as adults after they came as crew on people-smuggling boats and should apologise, the nation’s human rights head said yesterday.
Australian Human Rights Commission president Catherine Branson said 180 Indonesians claimed to be under the age of 18 when they arrived in Australia between late 2008 and late 2011, but some were not believed and put in prison.
“The fact is that a significant number of Indonesian children have been incarcerated in adult correctional facilities, including maximum security facilities ... in some cases for very long periods of time,” she said.
Branson, releasing a report on the treatment of the minors, said while obviously young Indonesians — including a boy who claimed to be eight — were sent home, authorities often relied on wrist X-rays to determine their age.
The accuracy of wrist X-rays, an age-profiling tool which compares an individual’s bone growth against a standard “atlas” developed in the US in the 1950s, was now “discredited,” she said.
“We now know that a significant number of young Indonesians assessed to be adults on the basis of X-ray analysis were in fact children, or were very likely to have been children, at the time of their apprehension,” she said.
Asked whether Canberra should apologize for the treatment of these minors, who were mostly poorly educated and came from impoverished fishing villages, Branson said: “My feeling would be that they probably should.
“There is a cohort of individuals whose human rights have not been respected in Australia,” she added to reporters in Sydney.
“They were not given the benefit of the doubt that they might be under the age of 18. They have not been separated from adults.
“These are all breaches of the convention on the rights of the child,” she added.
Branson said 48 Indonesians, many of whom were likely to have been children when detained, had charges against them dropped, while 15 who had been convicted were released and returned home because there was doubt about their age.
The government has since changed its approach and only one person has had their wrist X-rayed since July last year, while there are currently no Indonesians in Australian jails who have complained of being minors, Branson said.
Australian Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said there was now a fair system in place for assessing the age of people-smuggling crew who claim to be under 18, with all accused determined on an individual basis.
“Minors do not belong in adult jails, which is why the government significantly changed age-determination policy last year,” she said.
“These changes now see minors returned to Indonesia as soon as possible,” she added.
Roxon said Australian police and judicial officials give the benefit of the doubt in cases where age cannot be clearly established, often an issue with crew who sometimes are themselves unsure of their age.
People-smuggling is a sensitive issue in Australia, with more than 6,550 asylum seekers arriving by boat since the beginning of this year, many beginning their sea journey in Indonesia.