Controversial government policies challenged in Canberra and Brisbane courts, with both hearings seen as test cases.
An Australian human rights watchdog called on Thursday for the swift release of children of asylum seekers currently held in immigration detention centres.
I don't have any hope. I feel I will die in detention
President of Australia’s Human Rights Commission, Gillian Triggs, demanded the most powerful form of inquiry to further examine the 23-year-old practice of mandatory detention for asylum seekers and their families, travelling to Australia by boat.
The strongly worded call came after results of an inquiry which took place between January 2013 and March 2014, found 233 assaults involving child detainees and 33 reported sexual assaults.
In the same ten-month period, the 315-page report revealed a further 128 detained children had tried to harm themselves using methods including self-cutting and swallowing insect repellent.
“I don’t have any hope,” a teenager detained on Christmas Island told the commission. “I feel I will die in detention.”
Up to 120 children and young people currently being held in the Nauru island detention centre were found by the commission to be suffering from “extreme levels” of physical, emotional, psychological and developmental distress.
More than a third of detained children suffer from mental health disorders.
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott ruled out a royal commission on the issue saying the Australian Human Rights Commission ought to be “ashamed of itself” for an inquiry he calls “blatantly partisan”.
Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre, Melbourne, told Al Jazeera: “With hundreds of children still in detention, it’s deeply concerning that instead of acting to address the suffering the government has attacked the commission for doing its job.”
Professor Triggs said the report was “even handed”.
“Alternatives to indefinite detention, such as community detention, have not been properly considered by government decision makers, and the safety and well-being of children has not been a primary consideration,” she said.
Australia holds approximately 300 children in its mainland and offshore camp, a reduction from a peak of almost 2,000 who were being detained in 2013.
Asked if he felt any guilt about the treatment of children in detention, Abbott replied: “None whatsoever.”