Beverley Naidoo calls for an end to child detention in the pages of Nursery World

It’s not usual to have five-year-olds and 15-year-olds in the same storytelling workshop. But there was nothing usual about the event that illustrator Karin Littlewood and I ran last December for imprisoned children. They were behind bars, not for committing some horrible crime but because they were asylum-seekers, and because we live in a society that forgets it has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child – a society that is forgetting human decency.

Our aim that day in Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre was to offer such a good time that these young minds would temporarily fly beyond the barbed wire-topped fences, locked doors and gates. For a short while, Karin and I too might almost have forgottten where we were. It was the five-year-olds, two brothers, who reminded us. Avoiding eye contact, even when persuaded to help hold a long reel of paper for a story-drawing, these little boys told us through their body language and silent faces that they were traumatised.

All these children had experienced the terror of a dawn raid by the UK Border Agency and forced removal to detention-cum-prison. Some 2,000 children are put through this ordeal every year, even though families don’t abscond. As Dave Wood of the UK Border Agency let slip in evidence last year to a parliamentary committee, ‘it is not terribly easy for a family unit to abscond’.

So why does our Government continue to lock up children in conditions known to harm their mental and physical health? With an election coming up, few politicians want to risk being seen as ‘soft’ on asylum seekers.

But the medical profession has taken the lead in calling for the immediate end to child detention. Many children’s authors have spoken out strongly, and I call upon early years professionals to take action. My friends at End Child Detention Now can help you. Contact them at www.ecdn.org, which also has links to the public petition and the doctors’ petition. And hold your parliamentary candidates to account.

www.nurseryworld.co.uk

A pdf of the article can be found here.

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