100 Indonesian boys in Australian prisons
October 17, 2011
About 100 underage Indonesian boys are languishing in adult prisons in Australia because the federal government is refusing to acknowledge their real ages, activists say.
The boys, some as young as 13, were mostly cooks or deckhands on boats that brought refugees to Australia, a University of New South Wales (UNSW) Law School public forum will hear on Monday.
They now face being convicted of people smuggling as adults after their age was determined by the use of controversial wrist x-rays, said Gerry Georgatos of the Human Rights Alliance.
"Most of these boys have never been in trouble before, all of them are impoverished," he told AAP on Monday.
"Their mental state is one of despair, one of fear of the unknown."
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has refused to take action to release the boys, despite becoming personally involved in efforts to release a 14-year-old Australian boy being held in an Indonesian prison for allegedly possessing drugs, Mr Georgatos said.
The NSW boy has been held in isolated custody with his parents since he was allegedly caught with marijuana in Bali two weeks ago.
"At the same time that we are arguing over a boy who's in an appropriate jurisdiction and has got support as a child, we have 100 Indonesian children in Australian prisons who are not being acknowledged as children, who are in inappropriate jurisdictions," Mr Georgatos said.
"I have spoken to the prime minister about the predicament of these children in her care and she has done nothing for them.
"And yet she has (engaged) in a political contest with (Foreign Minister) Kevin Rudd to speak to this boy.
"The irony is unforgivable."
Director of UNSW Law School's Migrant and Refugee Rights Project, Bassina Farbenblum, said the boys' imprisonment undermined Australia's obligations under international law.
"If the boys are convicted as adults under the 2010 people smuggling laws, they face mandatory multiple-year jail terms that judges aren't able to reduce, no matter how limited the involvement was," Ms Farbenblum said.
In a written statement to AAP a spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor did not directly address the activists' claims.
However she said minors involved in people smuggling were sent home.
When in doubt age was determined through measures that were in accordance with the Crimes Act, she said.
"A working group of commonwealth agencies recommended these measures, which are supported by the Indonesian government," the spokeswoman said.
"Where age is not able to be clearly established, the benefit of the doubt is given."
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