Australia pays millions to company that denies crayons to children

Fairfax reports on a company, Serco, whose primary aim is to punish refugees in its care:

The private company that runs immigration detention has been forced to back off an arbitrary ban on children using crayons and coloured pencils in their rooms.

Serco Group’s officers in Darwin had decided on the ban, even though crayons are not listed as controlled or prohibited substances in the detention services manual. The Immigration Department could not point to any official reason for the ban yesterday.

Serco officers told a group of Darwin people, including three children, who had wrapped 80 art packs to give to 200 children at the Darwin Airport Lodge detention centre on Christmas morning, that the presents could not be distributed because ”the children might draw on the walls”.

It is believed that Serco had stopped child detainees from using crayons and pencils other than in group classes, and said they could not be used in family rooms, even under parental supervision.

The Greens and refugee groups said yesterday such a restriction would impair the development of young children, and was in breach of Serco’s contract. ”Preschool children learn how to write by first learning how to mark paper with crayons,” said Kate Gauthier, chairwoman of ChilOut (Children Out of Immigration Detention).

”It is a necessary part of the early childhood education process.”

Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said: ”This is another classic example of why children should not be in immigration detention. Serco is under a contractual obligation to provide early childhood materials to children in detention.”

After protests to the Immigration Department by the Darwin residents, the Christmas presents, which included 100 individually wrapped gifts that Serco had unwrapped, were distributed on Thursday, 12 days after Christmas.

A Serco spokesman yesterday apologised for the delay, and admitted its process for checking the gifts ”did not work well in this case”.

Said Ms Gauthier: ”It shows Serco are not just heartless buggers for interfering with Christmas presents, but are breaching their contractual obligations.”

A department spokeswoman said: ”The department is very appreciative of the gifts delivered to clients by the Darwin Asylum Seeker Support and Advocacy Network, ChilOut and the wider Darwin community. We regret there has been this slight delay in this single incident, and understand most of the 200 children have now received their gifts.”

”Safety procedures” were in force when goods entered a detention centre, she said.

The Immigration Department’s detention services manual lists controlled items, including alcohol, vitamins, phones with camera capability, computer modems, knitting needles, scissors, sporting equipment and religious candles, but does not mention crayons.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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