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Tuesday 9 February 2016 | Published in Regional


SYDNEY – The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has issued a correction over claims an asylum seeker child was sexually assaulted, as a paediatrician who raised the alarm says she provided “factually accurate” information.

The ABC last week reported a five-year-old boy was allegedly raped and faced the prospect of being returned to the offshore detention centre, where his alleged attacker remained.

Immigration Department officials on Monday told a Senate estimates committee the alleged victim in the story was actually over 10 years of age and had suffered “skin-to-skin” contact with another detainee child on the island. Department of Immigration and Border Protection secretary Michael Pezzullo said media reports on the issue had been deeply misleading.

“It’s getting to the point that there is advocacy parading as journalism that is actually deleterious to a sensible discussion about these matters,” he said.

Pezzullo also voiced cynicism in relation to claims of child sexual abuse in offshore detention, saying “in some cases, it’s not what it seems”.

In a statement responding to the Department’s claims, paediatrician Karen Ms Zwi said the information she provided was “factually accurate”.

“I do not wish to be drawn into the age of the child concerned for confidentiality reasons but all children have a right to expect safe and nurturing environments,” she said.

“That is not currently happening for many children in immigration detention. A child is a child. I stand by the statements I have made with regard to children in detention.”

But the ABC has acknowledged there was an error in its reporting of the story.

“Our source, the treating doctor told our reporters about two cases. One was an older child,” the ABC said in a statement. The doctor stands by her statement that this child was allegedly raped on Nauru.

“She also told our reporters about another of her patients, a five-year-old who was allegedly sexually assaulted on Nauru. Our story incorrectly used quotes about the older child in referring to the younger child.

“In addition on at least one occasion the incident was referred to as a rape instead of an alleged rape. ABC News apologises for the errors and confusion.”

The 12-year-old child in question could be sent back to Nauru alongside 267 asylum seekers in the wake of last week’s High Court judgement, which upheld offshore immigration detention. The status of the five-year-old child also remains unclear.

A number of state leaders have come out in support for the asylum seekers, calling on the Federal Government to grant amnesty.

But Pezzullo said “moral lecturing” was unhelpful.

He told Senate estimates the offshore processing system was working effectively and some asylum seekers could be ready for deportation “within days”.

“No amount of moral lecturing by those who seem not to comprehend the negative consequences of an open-borders policy will bring forth solutions,” he said.

“Yielding to emotional gestures in this area of public administration simply reduces the margin for discretionary action.”

Federal Labor senators joined forces with Coalition politicians last week to vote down a Greens motion to grant amnesty to the asylum seekers in Australia, in contrast to calls for compassion from state Labor leaders. - ABC