Intended for healthcare professionals


Measures to end child detention don’t go far enough, says children’s rights charity

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 17 December 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c7285
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. 1BMJ

The UK government will end the “shameful” practice of child detention at immigration centres, the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, has announced, fulfilling a pledge made by the coalition Conservative and Liberal Democrat government after it came to office in May.

Mr Clegg said that the family wing at Yarl’s Wood immigration centre in Bedfordshire would be closed to families with children with immediate effect.

“And I can confirm that, on the same basis, the detention of children for immigration purposes will also end at Tinsley House, no later than 11 May—exactly one year to the day from the signing of the coalition agreement. By March a totally new process for families in the immigration system will be under way.”

Most failed asylum seekers will be allowed to remain in the community while they settle their affairs before departure, but those who refuse to leave voluntarily will still be held in secure units. Families who refuse to go are likely to stay in “family friendly, pre-departure accommodation” for a maximum of 72 hours. Children would be free to leave the premises under suitable supervision.

The end of child detention is a victory for the Liberal Democrats, who committed themselves to it in their election manifesto. Mr Clegg said, “We are ending the shameful practice that last year alone saw over 1000 children—1000 innocent children—imprisoned [in] the practice that, under Labour, saw children literally taken from their homes without warning and placed behind bars.”

A joint report a year ago from the royal colleges of psychiatrists, paediatrics and child health, and general practitioners, with the UK Faculty of Public Health, said that the practice caused “significant harm” to children and called for it to end.

Mr Clegg said that early evidence from pilot projects showed that providing families with support and information encouraged them to leave voluntarily.

But the director of a children’s rights charity accused the government of merely “rebranding” detention. Carolyn Hamilton of the Children’s Legal Centre said, “We are disappointed that the current detention system will not end until May. Furthermore, the proposals for secure and supervised pre-departure accommodation appear to be detention by another name.

“We urge the government to allow independent evaluation of the new processes for returning families that are currently being piloted and to make good its promise to put child welfare at the centre of the removal process.

“If we are to have the ‘most child friendly immigration system in the developed world,’ as Nick Clegg has promised, there is still a long way to go. Rebranding detention is not the same as ending it.”


Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c7285

View Abstract