Leading children’s organisations and charities have written to the Home Secretary to express concern at plans in the Illegal Migration Bill to reintroduce child detention. They have condemned the child detention proposals in the Bill as ‘immoral’ and in breach of international law.
Reneging on ban on child detention
The coalition government committed to end child detention in 2010 and legislated against it in 2014. Strict time limits were put on holding children in short-term facilities and pre-departure accommodation. Now the Illegal Migration Bill would bring back the power to detain children with families and bring in powers to detain unaccompanied children.
Children in hotels
The legislation would also normalise children who arrive in the UK alone being accommodated directly by the Home Office – including in hotels from which 200 have gone missing – rather than being cared for by children’s services. The organisations believe that unaccompanied children being denied ‘looked after’ status undermines the child protection framework contained in the landmark Children Act 1989.
Concern about child detention is part of wider opposition to the Illegal Migration Bill, which would see anyone who comes to the UK without a visa locked out of getting protection as a refugee or victim of trafficking. It would also see them banned from ever obtaining permission to live in the UK. Critics say this would punish a child trafficked to the UK for the very crime of which she is the victim.
Dr Carol Homden CBE, chief executive of the Coram group of children’s charities, which works with hundreds of refugee and trafficked children each year through therapeutic, advocacy and legal services, said:
It is shocking that the government should seek to go back on such a high-profile commitment made to children especially at a time when the UN is examining the UK’s record on children’s rights. Reintroducing child detention is not a proud legacy for any government and we ask that this proposal is reconsidered to prevent there being undoubted harm to vulnerable children who need our protection.
Kamena Dorling, co-chair of the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium, said:
There is clear evidence showing the long-lasting damage that detention does to children. If this Bill passes as it is, we could see 8000 children being locked up each year – anywhere, with no limit and no safeguards.”
No answers from the Government
So far, the Home Office has only referred to “special arrangements” for children but provided no concrete reassurance about the impacts of the Bill on children. The Immigration Minister argued at second reading on Tuesday against the exclusion of children from detention powers, suggesting it would create an incentive to split up families or for adults to make false claims. The government was questioned on children by MPs including Conservative members Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Robert Buckland, Simon Hoare, Tim Loughton, Stephen Hammond, Sir Robert Neill, Vicky Ford and David Simmonds.
Signatories to the letter include: Coram, the Children’s Society, the National Children’s Bureau, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, ECPAT UK, Children England, Article 39, the Children’s Rights Alliance for England and the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium.
Children’s charity concerns about unaccompanied children being directly accommodated by the Home Office in hotels were raised with the Prime Minister. Statement available at: Care for every child: Duties to care for children must apply equally to all children | Children England
The Conservative-led coalition government committed to end child detention in 2010. The coalition government went on to make provisions for curtailing child detention in the Immigration Act 2014, available at: Immigration Act 2014 (legislation.gov.uk).
Concerns have also been raised by the Children’s Commissioner for England,