Australian rights body to probe child people smugglers

Australia's Human Rights Commission said Monday it would hold an inquiry into the treatment of suspected people smugglers who claim to be children, with an immediate focus on Indonesian crew.
Commission president Catherine Branson said she had concerns that at least 20 people now held in adult jails and who claimed to be children had been wrongly assessed as adults.
"I have been concerned for some time that errors may have been made in the processes used to determine the age of these individuals," she said.

"These errors may have resulted in children being detained for long periods of time in immigration detention and in adult prisons."
Lawyers for Indonesians hired to crew asylum-seeker boats say mistakes about their clients' ages, combined with the government's tough stance against people smugglers, has resulted in children being placed in adult jails.
Branson said the individuals of immediate concern were Indonesians who crewed boats bringing asylum-seekers to Australia and who have subsequently been investigated for people smuggling offences.
Australia generally sends suspected people smugglers found to be minors home but imposes a mandatory five-year jail sentence on adults involved in people smuggling -- making age determination critically important.
Branson said the inquiry would look at the use of wrist X-rays as evidence of age, a method whose accuracy has been called into question and which the Greens Party has proposed banning.
Wrist X-rays are a relatively common age-profiling tool which compares an individual's bone growth against a standard "atlas" developed in the US in the 1950s chronicling the appearance of children's bones at different ages.
Branson said Australia had a responsibility to ensure that unaccompanied children who came here were protected.
"Australia is also obliged to ensure that children deprived of their liberty are separated from adults in detention or prison," she said.
Minors were often used as crewmen and cooks on people-smuggling vessels.
The controversy comes as a 14-year-old Australian boy is facing up to six years in prison in Indonesia after being caught in Bali last month with nearly seven grams of marijuana while on holiday with his parents. (AFP)


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