The federal government has been urged to drop its use of wrist X-rays to assess the age of alleged Indonesian people-smugglers and enable arrested minors to more easily contact their families and seek support.
Indonesian children as young as 14 accused of people-smuggling have been put in Australian maximum security jails since 2008, but the process has been controversial and several court cases have fallen through due to age factors.
In May, the Senate asked its legal and constitutional affairs committee to look at the issue, as well as the accuracy of wrist X-ray checks used to determine age.
The committee report released on Thursday recommended the government consider stopping the use of wrist X-rays and set up a formal process with Indonesia to gathering of evidence about the ages of alleged people smugglers.
As well, minors should have access to consular assistance and contact with their families soon after their arrival in Australia, and the Indonesian embassy should be notified, the committee said.
The report also proposed new laws to cover when the issue of age arises in criminal proceedings so the prosecution bears the burden of proof to establish the person was an adult at the time of the offence.
Wrist X-rays have been criticised by medical specialists and human rights advocates for their inaccuracy in determining age.
In July last year, the government announced it would start using dental X-rays, interviews and source information from Indonesia to help in their inquiries.
At end August, there were 33 Indonesian nationals in immigration detention or prison claiming to be minors. One, who was convicted of people-smuggling but is appealing, has been detained for almost 900 days.
Committee member and Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young said it’s a “shocking dereliction of care” exposed the government to possible compensation claims.
“There are already two cases where children who were imprisoned by the Australian government are seeking compensation,” she said in a statement.
“I expect more claims will be lodged.”
Ms Hanson-Young said the report showed “what a scandal and what a travesty of justice the Australian government agencies have allowed to happen”.
“Dozens of young Indonesians were wrongfully charged, wrongfully convicted, and wrongfully imprisoned as adults,” she told reporters in Sydney.
“Some of these children were as young as 13 and 14. Some of them spent three years in adult facilities.
“The government owes these children an apology, it must ban the use of wrist X-rays and it has to change the laws to make sure that this type of scandal can never happen again.”