Australia's extra-judicial jailing of Indonesian children
Cartoon image: Thanks to Jon Kudelka and the West Australian
Discredited wrist X-ray tests and Immigration fanatics jail hundreds of kids
We avoid the Criminal Code, because that would prevent us from jailing children without charges; we use discredited wrist X-ray testing to determine their ages without getting results in due time; while this goes on, our Immigration Department cowboys collude with Australian Federal Police in order to jail more than a hundred kids in adult Australian prisons. And barely anyone stirs this hornet's nest of Australia's medieval lock-em-up mentality.
More and more are Indonesian boys are coming with the asylum seeker boats; they are apprehended before being jailed "pending charges" of people smuggling, and "pending age verification" with the wrist X-ray test that's discredited around the world. Then we lock them up, often for more than a full year, before admitting they're children, or before charging them with people smuggling, while they are not people smugglers, but children from fishing villages who took on jobs as cooks and sailors.
At Project SafeCom we've received calls from the Indonesian authorities and from consular staff. Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd is being approached by our neighbours. Now Gillard PM is also being lobbied to show some decency. And as the reports below show, there are protests by lawyers and activists in Jakarta, damning Australia's treatment of their citizens.
What's on this page
This page is one of several on our website that highlights the issue of underage asylum boat crew children we lock up; however, this page highlights the increasing dismay on the part of Indonesian authorities with our ruthless attitude towards Indonesian minors.
5 November 2011: We're terrified of the boat people - We're terrified of the boat people: Children and boys are depicted as smugglers in Australia's psychotic war against boat arrivals. This is a page containing a number of media reports about the fate of those who sail asylum seeker boats to our shore.
16 April 2011: Island boys and Indonesian smuggling laws - Why did Indonesia formulate their anti-people smuggling laws? A massive political campaign has long told Australians that people smugglers are evil, that they are the scum of the earth, that they run a vile industry. That campaign has run in tandem with one convincing us that those sailing to Australia are 'illegal immigrants', 'queue jumpers' or 'economic forumshoppers'.
1 April 2010: Is Mr Hadi Ahmadi a people smuggler or escape organiser? - Mr Hadi Ahmadi assisted in bringing four boats to Australia. His passengers were not 'illegal immigrants' but asylum seekers: of the 900 passengers, no less than 866 were declared genuine refugees once their claims were processed. That's a success rate of 97%. Does that make him a people smuggler or a UN Convention enabler - or an "escape organiser"?
19 April 2010: The 2010 Anti-Smuggling Legislation - Punishing smugglers, or finding a covert way to lock Australia's borders? "In view of commitments given by Australia under the UN Refugee Convention, also to refugees arriving by boat, this legislation gives the appearance of being highly manipulative in nature."
2 March 2010: To Catch a People Smuggler, to Wade through Brine of Spin - Anyone who tries "to catch a people smuggler" needs to first peel off the many layers of spin and labelling. This page, primarily about 'Captain Bram', one of the Australian government's "notorious" people-smugglers, wonders why he has not been extradited to Australia.
24 August 2009: Reaching Australia: Iraqi asylum seekers in transit in SE Asia - This paper considers the relationship between asylum seekers and people smugglers, based primarily on interviews with Iraqis settled in Australia and Iraqis stranded in Indonesia since 2001. The study is responsive to recognition within forced migration research of the importance of giving voice to the main agents - refugees and asylum seekers - as part of the research process.
18 May 2009: Kevin Rudd's vile band of people smugglers - Kevin Rudd, with his media remarks, had escalated the issue of people smuggling, and remarkably, a crack appeared in their vileness. For the first time in Australian history, media opinion started to turn against his line, and reporters and opinion writers started to open the issue and, almost unaware of it, started to 'humanise' people smugglers. Thank you, Prime Minister!
:::UPDATED Febr 2008:::: 26 September 2007: Oskar Schindler and the people smuggler - Under Australia's interpretation of what constitutes a 'people smuggler', the young man who sold the donkey to Joseph and Mary would be prosecuted and imprisoned by law ... So would the priest who helped the Von Trapp family ... this page is about Ali Al Jenabi, one of those people smugglers.
Click the links below to jump down to the articles and items on this page with the same title.
Indonesian children released from Darwin detention centre
ABC Online News
The Immigration Department and Australian Federal Police have ended the indefinite detention of several Indonesian children in Darwin by sending them home.
The children were suspected of being crew members on asylum seeker boats.
Twelve Indonesians, including children, challenged the Immigration Minister's power to hold them in Darwin's detention centre without charge.
But the Northern Territory Supreme Court found it did not have the power to help them return home.
A lawyer for the children told the court that only one child is still in Darwin's detention centre.
An Immigration Department spokeswoman says some children have been removed from Australia, and others have been charged and taken into police custody.
The AFP says it has not charged any children, and says suspected people smuggler detainees are medically tested to determine their age.
The ABC has been told the Indonesians facing charges are in custody interstate.
Lawyers plan to launch a fresh challenge this month.
Jakarta to press Kevin Rudd over detained children
Kevin Rudd will be grilled about the plight of Indonesian children locked up by the federal government on people-smuggling charges when he arrives in Jakarta next week.
While his trip is intended to deal with Canberra's ban on live cattle exports, tension is growing over the Gillard government's treatment of three Indonesian boys arrested on April 25 last year and now facing mandatory sentencing on people-smuggling charges. Refugee advocates say up to 60 other children are held in harsh adult jails with hardened criminals including pedophiles.
Australian lawyers representing the three Indonesian boys held in jail for 415 days accuse the federal government of child cruelty and institutionalised abuse of children. Ose Lani, 15, Ako Lani and John Ndollu, both 16, were arrested while serving as deckhands.
Initially held in Darwin, the boys were transferred to Brisbane's Arthur Gorrie maximum security prison in January. They were exposed to risk from adult offenders while they waited for their case to be heard.
Two weeks ago they were given bail and are now living in a Brisbane motel, but face a mandatory five-year prison term if convicted of people-smuggling.
Pressure is growing for the Department of Public Prosecutions to drop the charges against the boys. Human rights groups in Jakarta have been pressing the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to secure their release.
X-rays 'unethical, inaccurate' test of asylum seekers' ages
The world's top expert on determining the ages of children has slammed the use of wrist X-rays on which federal police have relied to keep dozens of Indonesian boys in adult jails.
Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Britain's founding Children's Commissioner, said the federal police's use of X-rays to assess the ages of Indonesian crew members of asylum seeker boats was "unethical, inaccurate, not fit for purpose proposed and potentially unlawful".
"There are aspects of the current process of assessing age in Australia that should cause grave concern," Sir Al told The Age. "Injustice is likely when a decision on age is driven by using a method involving wrist X-ray which has been rejected elsewhere."
Federal police have relied on an X-ray process that was established in the 1950s to determine that more than 60 Indonesian crew members of asylum seeker boats who claim to be under 18 are adults and must face mandatory five-year jail terms under people-smuggling laws.
Doctors compare X-rays with those taken from largely white middle-class children in the United States in the 1930s.
In the cases of three Indonesian boys held with adult criminals in Brisbane, federal police ignored evidence such as extracts of birth certificates and assessments by immigration officers - choosing to rely solely on X-ray examinations.
About 10 other Indonesians claiming to be under 18 are in custody waiting to undergo X-rays, the only prescribed method available to the federal police under legislation to determine the ages of children.
Sir Al - who is Professor Emeritus of Child Health at University College London and has led several major inquiries into the circumstances of children and families seeking asylum in England - told The Age the use of radiology deserved vigorous public, professional and ethical scrutiny: "Australian society, professional organisations and its courts need to define as a matter of urgency which methods of age assessment are acceptable, what limits of uncertainty are valid and how a consensus can be reached in individual cases."
He said children's commissioners or other statutory bodies in Australia should be given the power to enter premises to witness screenings and age assessments on individuals claiming to be children, including asylum seekers.
Sir Al, who was knighted for his services to children in 2006, has been asked to give expert evidence in the cases of three Indonesian boys snatched from their impoverished Indonesian village by people smugglers to work on an asylum seeker boat that arrived in Australian waters last year. Based solely on the evidence of wrist X-rays they had been held for months in a high-security adult Brisbane jail with murderers, rapists and paedophiles.
The boys were freed on bail from jail and put under the care of the Immigration Department after The Age revealed lawyers had obtained birth extracts and other evidence from their village proving they are aged 15 and 16.
Under federal policy, Indonesian crew members who are under 18 are supposed to be flown home without charge.
Sir Al's comments will intensify pressure on the Gillard government to free from adult jails all of the Indonesians who claim to be under 18.
Defence lawyers had already begun preparing legal challenges to the X-rays based on judicial rulings and studies showing that no scientific method exists that can precisely tell a person's age.
Sir Al said the Australian government should set up a working party to define a policy for age assessment that was evidence-based, ethical and in line with best international practice.
After The Age revealed the plight of the three boys being held in Brisbane, a spokeswoman for Justice Minister Brendan O'Connor said a working group from the federal police, the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Immigration Department would "examine what steps can be taken to ensure that age determination procedures provide the best evidence for a court".
In Britain, assessments by trained social workers are used to determine a child's age. Where people are thought to be close to 18 they are treated as a minor unless proven otherwise.
Reports that Sir Al wrote in England led to significant changes in the way British authorities deal with failed asylum seeker families.
Alleged people smugglers X-rayed to prove age
ABC Online News
Two of Australia's child commissioners have added their voices to concerns over the use of wrist X-rays to determine the age of alleged people smugglers.
They say a national child commissioner is needed to deal with the rights of young people caught up in such situations.
New laws mean that people deemed to be adults and found to be guilty of aggravated people smuggling face jail terms of between five and 20 years.
Three Indonesian males were recently released on bail from an adult correctional facility in Brisbane, pending determination of their age.
A number of Indonesian crew members of asylum seeker boats who say they are under 18 are reportedly being held in correctional facilities and immigration centres after X-ray examinations were used to deem that they were not children.
But Victoria's Child Safety Commissioner, Bernie Geary, is worried about the use of wrist X-rays.
"It sounds bizarre that we have to resort to this way of finding out the age of children," he said.
"I think it shows a distinct lack of respect for their rights and I wonder how we'd cope with that in the general community.
"I think people would be probably be up in arms, so I think it's actually pretty disrespectful."
Mr Geary says a national child commissioner is needed to deal with the issues, and advocate for children in such circumstances.
"Children need to have their rights particularly looked at because children are so vulnerable," he said.
"We really don't have a body or commission that is specifically looking at children and how they cope, how they are able to live in a situation where they've got asylum seekers, refugees.
"Children are part of this whole deal and they are the most vulnerable, the most powerless and they need people who are looking at the world through their eyes."
The Queensland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Elizabeth Fraser, agrees.
"I think it is one of the issues that could be included in the role that they have. It is a national issue," she said.
"It relates to Commonwealth laws and it is an important issue in terms of children so for all those reasons I would think there would be a role that the national commissioner could play in that context."
A spokeswoman for the Federal Justice Minister, Brendan O'Connor, says the Australian Federal Police rely upon an independent medical expert to interpret the X-rays and determine ages.
The spokeswoman says a working group comprising the Attorney-General's Department, AFP, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and the Department of Immigration is currently examining what steps can be take to ensure that the age determination procedures provide the best evidence for a court to decide the age of people smuggling crew who claim to be minors.
Ms Fraser says this is a positive development.
"If there is anything inappropriate about it, that will come to light and I think that is a very positive announcement because obviously it would be completely concerning if an inappropriate or an unethical practice was being used to differentiate age," she said.
But she says those in doubt should not be held in adult jails while their age is being determined.
"From my perspective, I would think that if there is a doubt, then I would go with the UNHCR advice that the benefit of doubt should accrue to the young person until such time as it has been determined their age," she said.
The concerns raised by Mr Geary and Ms Fraser follow comments by Britain's founding children's commissioner, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, against the practice.
He is reported in the Age newspaper today saying that the use of such X-rays is "unethical, inaccurate, not fit for purpose and potentially unlawful".
Gillard criticised for wrist X-rays
Two of Australia's child commissioners have backed criticism of the Gillard government's use of wrist X-rays to determine the ages of Indonesian crew members of asylum seeker boats. Crew members face five years' mandatory jail sentences under harsh people smuggling laws.
Victoria's Bernie Geary and Queensland's Elizabeth Fraser called for the appointment of a national child commissioner to help protect the rights of children facing long jail sentences in adult jails.
They made the call after Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Britain's founding children's commissioner, told The Age that using X-rays to assess more than 60 Indonesians in custody who claimed to be under 18 was ''unethical, inaccurate, not fit for purpose proposed and potentially unlawful''.
Sir Al, a world expert on determining the ages of children, warned that the current process of assessing age in Australia was a matter of grave concern.
Mr Geary said X-rays were a ''bizarre'' way to find out the ages of vulnerable children.
''I think it shows a distinct lack of respect for their rights and I wonder how we would cope with that in the wider community,'' he told ABC radio.
''I think people would probably be up in arms, so I think it's actually pretty disrespectful.''
Ms Fraser said there was a role for a national commissioner to focus on Commonwealth policy and legislation and promotion and protection of children's rights.
''The incarceration of children under 18 years of age in adult correctional facilities would be a matter of concern to me,'' she said.
Gerry Georgatos, convener of the Human Rights Alliance, said he pleaded with Prime Minister Julia Gillard in a conversation last weekend to immediately release on bail 25 children who were being held in adult jails in Western Australia.
''Australia has not just breached the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has shattered it,'' he said.
''We have fallen in a heap on racism that we thought we were long removed from.
''It is disturbing the Prime Minister is aware of minors in our prisons and has done nothing to avoid or remedy the situation.''
Among the Indonesians facing long prison sentences in adult jails with hardened criminals are three Indonesian boys snatched by people smugglers from their impoverished village.
The Age revealed earlier this month that lawyers had obtained overwhelming evidence the boys were 15 and 16.
But federal police continue to rely on X-rays to assert they are 19 years or older.
The boys are being held at a Brisbane motel pending a trial scheduled for later this year.
Mr Georgatos called for the immediate release of a boy who has been working alongside paedophiles in Perth's Hakea jail.
The Age has established that the boy who arrived on an asylum seeker boat in April last year turned 16 on March 16.
Federal government policy is to fly home without charge Indonesian crew members who are under 18.
Charges dropped against jailed teenage people-smuggling accused
AAP / The Australian
Three Indonesian teenagers held for months in an Australian adult jail are free to return home after people-smuggling charges against them were dropped.
Indonesian human rights groups had been pressing for action in the cases of Ako Lani, 16, Ose Lani, 15, and John Ndollu, 16, from a village on Roti Island, were on an asylum-seeker boat spotted near Ashmore Reef in April last year.
Lawyers for the trio, who had been locked in a dispute with the government over the teenagers' age, said they were disgusted at their treatment.
The three were in an immigration detention centre before being relocated to Brisbane's Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre where convicted pedophiles, rapists and murderers are kept.
They were facing five years in the jail because of mandatory sentencing laws for convicted people smugglers while their lawyers and Australian authorities argued over their age.
People under the age of 18 cannot be convicted of people-smuggling.
Last month they were released on bail into the care of welfare officers from the Department of Immigration.
Today, people-smuggling charges were dropped in the Brisbane Magistrates Court, clearing the way for the boys to return home.
A Queensland justice spokeswoman said the charges had been dropped due to a lack of evidence.
The boys had pleaded not guilty, saying they were tricked into bringing 41 Afghan and Iraqi refugees to Australia.
Today's decision follows growing concern over Australia's treatment of the trio and of other children held in adult jails.
Australian lawyers representing the three Indonesian teenagers accused the federal government of child cruelty and institutionalised abuse of children.
Pressure had been growing on the Department of Public Prosecutions to drop the charges against the teenagers.
Human rights groups in Jakarta have also been pressing the government of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to secure their release.
Their lawyer Mark Plunkett said he and another lawyer had located the boys' parents on Roti Island and confirmed they were minors.
He said he was disgusted about the way the Australian Federal Police and federal government had handled the matter.
"These are children who should have never been in a maximum security jail," Mr Plunkett said.
"No-one in Australia told their parents they were in jail.
"The department knew from October last year that they were children but the federal police had them locked up with pedophiles and murderers."
He said the boys were fishing off Roti Island when people smugglers tricked them into delivering the asylum-seekers to Ashmore Reef.
"They were told they could make $20 to deliver them to the navy so they were duped."
Indonesian youth fears child prison
The West Australian
An alleged people smuggler, who claims to be a child despite being held in an adult prison, has written of his fears at being separated from his countrymen and taken to a juvenile facility.
In a handwritten letter to refugee advocate Gerry Georgatos, the Indonesian prisoner known only as Hadi, said he was happy in Hakea prison, where he is being held on remand.
"I still wish to be in Hakea because I feel happy being here," the translation of his June 11 letter reads.
"I no longer wish to move to another jail, more over to a children's jail. I do not want to be alone.
"I have also requested to (a barrister) that I do not wish to be moved again to a children's jail. I do not wish to make any more problems concerning my age because I am prepared to receive their decision."
Hadi has pleaded not guilty to allegations he was a cook on a boat that arrived in Australian waters last year.
The Indonesian originally told Federal authorities he was 16, but later dropped the claim. Australian Federal Police claim he is 20, based on a wrist scan which tests bone density, a technique which has been widely criticised and is under review.
But Mr Georgatos said Hadi was not aware of the Federal Government's policy not to prosecute minors and that he could be sent home if found to be under 18.
"Hadi wants to be released and go home to Indonesia, however, he hasn't grasped that this concept is possible and thinks the alternative as a result of the truth is going to a children's prison where he will know no one and where there will be no Indonesians for him to speak with," Mr Georgatos said.
News of Hadi's letter came as a nine-member Indonesian delegation arrived in Perth to raise concerns about the imprisonment of Hadi and other Indonesians who claim to be children.
Led by Indonesia's Federal director for consular affairs Chalief Akbar, the delegation includes staff of the Indonesian departments of Foreign Affairs and Immigration.
But it is understood they did not meet Corrective Services Minister Terry Redman or department staff.
Indonesian consular officials are still working to authenticate a police clearance certificate which lists Hadi's birthday as 1995.
People-smuggling charges dropped
Three Indonesian teenagers are free to go home after people smuggling charges against them were dropped in Brisbane Magistrates Court today.
The barrister for one of the boys this afternoon called for an independent inquiry into the plight of Indonesian children being held in Australian jails.
Fairfax this month revealed the boys, who had been held at Arthur Gorrie Correctional Centre for more than a year before being bailed two weeks ago, were aged 15 and 16.
Prosecutors today gave no reason for dropping charges against Ose Lani, John Ndollu and Ako Lani, who were detained on an asylum-seeker boat on Ashmore Reef 14 months ago.
"Thank God for the Queensland courts," said Mark Plunkett, who represented Ako Lani.
"The independent Queensland judiciary has saved these children."
The trio had been staying in a hotel after being bailed into the custody of the immigration department two weeks ago.
Mr Plunkett said all three were now free to go home to Indonesia, but he said as many as 70 other Indonesian minors were currently being held in Australian prisons.
He said wrist X-rays used to determine the age of detainees were ineffective, and that greater efforts needed to be made to get Indonesian minors out of adult prisons.
"The Commonwealth of Australia finally came to their senses and dropped the charges against the three boys," he said.
"There has been institutionalised child abuse by our government using our dollars against Indonesian children. There are 60 or 70 other kids in jails in Australia who deserve to go home.
"Forget about Australian cattle being mistreated in Indonesia. Concentrate on Indonesian children being held in maximum-security jails alongside paedophiles, rapists and murderers."
If convicted on the people smuggling charges, the three boys faced up to five years' jail because of mandatory sentencing laws.
Human Rights Alliance convenor Gerry Georgatos said a delegation of Indonesian officials had been in Australia arguing for their release.
He said evidence from the boys' home nation would have quickly proven their ages.
"The evidence outweighs what the wrist-bone age scan suggests," he said. "The magistrate has to err on the side of caution.
"We do need appropriate age-determination protocols. It is wrong that we have allowed it to go on for so long.
"I think the message has been sent: err on the side of caution and let's get these policies right."
Mr Plunkett called for an inquiry similar to the 1999 Ford Commission of Inquiry into the abuse of children in Queensland institutions.
"If Australian kids were locked up with Schapelle Corby, what would we do?" he said.
"Indonesian children are not safe in Australian jails."
Jakarta steps up pressure over plight of jailed boys
People smuggling charges against three boys snatched from an impoverished Indonesian village have been dropped as Indonesia intensifies pressure on Australia over its treatment of Indonesian crew members of asylum seeker boats.
Fahmi Jamaludin, first secretary of the Indonesian Consulate-General in Sydney, told The Age the plight of young Indonesians facing long jail sentences in adult Australian jails is a "main concern" of his country in its relations with Australia.
More than 60 Indonesians claiming to be under 18 face mandatory five-year jail sentences in adult jails under harsh people smuggling laws despite a federal government policy to fly home Indonesian crew members who are under 18.
Most of the Indonesians are being held on the evidence of wrist X-rays that have been widely criticised as being unreliable.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is known to be taking a close personal interest in the plight of the Indonesians, who have been the subject of recent high-level talks between officials of both countries.
The Age revealed last month that Ose Lani, 15, John Ndollu and Ako Lani, both 16, were snatched from their village on Indonesia's Roti Island by people smugglers and told to work as deck hands and cooks on a boat that arrived at Ashmore Reef in April last year.
Australian Federal Police ignored Immigration assessments and extracts of birth certificates that stated the boys were under 18 as they spent months in Brisbane's high-security Arthur Gorrie jail with hardened criminals.
After publication of The Age's report, they were released from the jail on June 17 and taken to a Brisbane motel under the care of the Immigration Department.
The boys wept on Thursday when an Indonesian consular official told them the charges against them had been dropped and they would be flown home within days.
The federal government is under pressure to drop the use of the wrist X-rays to determine the ages of children after Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Britain's founding Children's Commissioner, told The Age they are "unethical, inaccurate, not fit for purpose proposed and potentially unlawful".
The X-ray technique that was established in the 1950s is the only prescribed method Federal Police can use to determine ages under Australian legislation.
In Perth's high-security Hakea jail, a 16-year-old crew member of a boat that arrived in Australian waters last year has written a letter expressing fears that if he is proven to be a child he will be removed to a children's prison away from Indonesian friends he has made there.
"I do not wish to cause any trouble about my age. I have to accept whatever consequence," he wrote.
The boy has been working in the jail's laundry alongside convicted sex offenders.
The Age has confirmed he is only 16 from family members and school records.
Mark Plunkett, a Brisbane barrister who went to Indonesia to gather evidence proving the ages of Ose Lani, John Ndollu and Ako Lani, has called for an independent inquiry into the way Australia is treating Indonesian crew members of asylum seeker boats.
''This amounts to cruelty to children by irresponsible Australian politicians pandering to to racist hate over asylum seekers,'' Mr Plunkett said.
''It took Queensland's independent judicial system to save these children from abuse in an adult jail.''
Call to PM helps free smuggling case boys
Sydney Morning Herald
People smuggling charges against three boys snatched from an impoverished Indonesian village have been dropped only hours after Indonesian president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono phoned the prime minister, Julia Gillard.
Mr Yudhoyono is believed to have told Ms Gillard he regards the plight of scores of Indonesian crew members of asylum seeker boats in Australia who claim to be under 18 as a priority for his country.
The boys face mandatory five-year jail terms in adult prisons under harsh people-smuggling laws despite a federal government policy to fly home without charge Indonesians who are under 18.
Most of the crew members are being held on the evidence of wrist x-rays that have been widely criticised as being unreliable.
The Herald revealed earlier this month that Ose Lani, 15, John Ndollu and Ako Lani, both 16, were snatched from their village on Indonesia's Roti Island by people smugglers and told to work as deck hands and cooks on a boat that arrived at Ashmore Reef in April last year.
Federal police ignored Immigration assessments and extracts of birth certificates that the boys are under 18 as they spent months in Brisbane's high-security Arthur Gorrie jail with hardened criminals.
After publication of the Herald's report they were freed on bail on June 17 and taken to a Brisbane motel under the care of the Immigration Department.
The boys wept when an Indonesian consular official told them on Thursday evening the charges against them were being dropped and they would be flown home within days.
Fahmi Jamaludin, First Secretary of the Indonesian Consulate-General in Sydney, told the Herald the plight of the young Indonesian crew members in Australia is a "main concern" of Indonesia in its relationship with Australia.
The Federal Government is under pressure to drop the use of the wrist x-rays to determine the ages of children after Sir Al Aynsley-Green, the United Kingdom's founding Children's Commissioner, said they are "unethical, inaccurate, not fit for purpose proposed and potentially unlawful."
Sir Al, the world's top expert on determining the ages of children, warned the process being used in Australia was a matter of grave concern.
Under-age asylum traffickers sent home on public purse
Three Indonesian boys facing mandatory jail terms in Australia for people-smuggling have been set free with all charges dismissed, and will be sent home at an estimated total cost to taxpayers of $10,000.
Anger is growing in Indonesia over claims that as many as 30 Indonesians held in Australian jails and accused of people-smuggling may be under 18.
Most of the Indonesian crewmen are poor fishermen who can't find other work and some are said to be as young as 15.
Crewmen deemed to be adults are charged and frequently jailed for five years but Australia sends minors home without prosecuting them.
During a brief hearing in Brisbane Magistrates Court yesterday, magistrate Chris Callaghan dismissed all charges against the three after the commonwealth failed to provide evidence that they were adults.
Ako Lani, 15, and Ose Lani and John Ndollu, both 16, from Roti Island, southwest of West Timor, will be flown home within days.
Many Indonesians, including MPs, consider jail sentences for the fishermen who crew the asylum-seeker boats excessive.
Indonesia estimates that about 30 crewmen who have been charged or jailed in Australia have claimed to be under 18.
Jakarta officials say these young men should be held in juvenile facilities until the age issue is resolved.
Wrist X-rays are taken and interpreted by an independent medical expert to determine the ages of those who claim to be minors.
In the Brisbane court, commonwealth prosecutors initially disputed the boys' ages, saying wrist-bone X-ray analysis indicated they were adults.
Defence lawyers dismissed the tests as "crank science" and said that all three defendants had birth certificates, sworn affidavits from their parents and village chiefs proving they were juveniles.
Defence lawyer Mark Plunkett said it was lucky that Australia had an independent judiciary.
"These village boys were held needlessly in a maximum-security prison with pedophiles, rapists and murderers," Mr Plunkett said.
"They are now free to go home and return to their mothers and fathers."
Indonesian diplomats say it is hypocritical of Canberra to keep complaining about the ill-treatment of cattle while Indonesian juveniles are being unlawfully detained in maximum-security prisons in Australia.
X-ray of hope for underage smugglers
The Indonesian crew of people smuggling boats who claim they are under 18 will be able to demand dental X-rays in a bid to prove their age and stay out of Australian prisons.
Under measures to be announced by Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor, alleged people smugglers will be given dental X-rays as well as X-rays of wrist bones in an attempt to better determine their true age.
Australian Federal Police will also be obliged to go to greater lengths in attempting to obtain birth certificates or other proof of age documents, and AFP interrogators will use new interview techniques to probe for details of age.
The Federal Government has come under increasing pressure from Jakarta in recent months, with Indonesian officials saying at least 25 Indonesian crew of people smuggling boats being held in Australian jails are minors.
At present, officials X-ray the wrist bones of accused people smugglers to work out age but this method has come under dispute from some experts.
The AFP is refusing to say what new interrogation techniques it will use for fear it could give suspects advance notice of how to deflect questions.
Mr O'Connor said it was important to get the ages of suspects right because the penalty for people smuggling was now up to 20 years jail.
"People smuggling is a dangerous crime that places the lives of crew and passengers in peril," he said.
"To deter would-be people smugglers, we've introduced serious penalties with a mandatory minimum sentence of eight years."
Last month, a high-level Indonesian delegation went to Perth to petition on behalf of the large number of Indonesians they said were underage and being held in adult prisons.
AFP officers say it is sometimes difficult to be precise about the age of Indonesian boat people crew because normally the crew come from poor villages and often have only a vague idea themselves of how old they are.
More doubts on age of 'smuggler'
An accused people smuggler in Hakea prison is getting special protection because the State Government and prison officials have growing doubts that he is an adult.
Protective Services Minister Terry Redman ordered officials to interview the boy, Hadi, through an interpreter last week.
It is understood he insists he was born in 1995, making him 16, and so should have been sent back to Indonesia without charge when the boat he was on was intercepted at Ashmore Reef early last year.
The Government is believed to have strong doubts the boy is an adult and has contacted the Federal Police Commissioner and Commonwealth Attorney-General about what to do.
Mr Redman said he was aware of the growing concerns about the teenager and confirmed he had ordered staff to interview him.
"Like all Australians, I do not want to see any youth housed in an adult corrections facility, nor do I want to see any convicted adult housed in a youth facility," he said.
The move came after The West Australian uncovered growing evidence supporting Hadi's claim that he is a minor. His mother in central Java verified his age and a police clearance document lists his date of birth as April 5, 1995.
The family live in extreme poverty and critical documents which would have proved his age in Australian courts, such as a birth certificate and school records, were either never issued or were destroyed when their riverbed home in Sulawesi was washed away.
Mr Redman said that the interview with Hadi was confidential but if new information was found, it would be acted on immediately.
The State Government is essentially powerless to free the boy, who is in jail on a Federal court ruling that he is over 18.
For five months, he has been on remand in the adult prison on the basis of controversial bone scans, which Australian Federal Police say prove he is 20 and can be charged and treated as an adult.
Despite insisting he was recruited as a cook, he faces charges of people smuggling, which carry a maximum penalty of five years prison.
On Friday, Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd and his Indonesian counterpart Marty Natalegawa discussed the issue in Jakarta, with Mr Rudd assuring Indonesian media that the every effort would be made to ensure no underage Indonesians were kept behind bars.
He said someone whose age was uncertain but could be under 18 would be separately and appropriately accommodated while assessments were made.
Alarm at abuse of asylum boat boys
Lawyers representing Indonesian boys arrested for people-smuggling offences want a royal commission into the government's treatment of Indonesian youth in custody.
Yesterday, Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd said extra medical tests would be used to assess the age of young Indonesians arrested as asylum-seeker crew who do not have birth certificates.
In an interview with Radio Australia, Mr Rudd admitted his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa, last week had sought assurances about the treatment of Indonesian youth arrested in the crackdown on people-smuggling.
"It is often difficult to establish age when people have come from various parts of Indonesia in the absence of any form of documentation or our inability to retrieve anything that could be linked to a birth certificate," Mr Rudd said.
"Therefore, X-rays of a dental nature as well as wrists and other things are now being deployed . . . to make sure we identify those who are juveniles and for them to be accommodated separately and for them to be, of course, dealt with separately as well," he said.
The Indonesian embassy estimates at least 30 Indonesian boys remain in custody because they have been unable to prove their age.
Yesterday, defence lawyers said an application had been made for a royal commission to investigate the commonwealth's treatment of Indonesian children in detention.
At least two recent detention cases involved alleged sexual abuse, a senior defence lawyer said.
"We have evidence boys have already been subjected to sex abuse by adult prisoners while in maximum-security detention.
"We (lawyers) are compiling evidence to send to Indonesia -- these boys are not safe in Australia," the lawyer said.
Lawyers are also investigating allegations that at least one Indonesian juvenile has been wrongfully convicted under mandatory sentencing laws after pleading guilty.
Last month, a Brisbane court ordered three Indonesian boys facing mandatory sentencing, freed and returned home to Roti Island after the commonwealth's case to prove they were adults collapsed.
Indonesian boys 'wallowing' in Australian jails
ABC Online News
Human rights advocates say nearly 100 Indonesian boys are being held in Australian prisons waiting to be prosecuted for people smuggling.
They say the children are accused of being crew members aboard the boats carrying asylum seekers from Indonesia to Australian shores.
Criminal defence lawyer and campaigner Edwina Lloyd says there is a double standard when it comes to the treatment of Indonesian children in the corrections system.
She compared their treatment to the high-level attention given to a 14-year-old Australian boy who is under arrest in Bali on drugs charges.
"The arrest of the young Australian boy in Bali and it's all action stations for the government, Julia Gillard making personal phone calls to this young boy in a police cell in Indonesia," she said.
"But what about the nearly 100 children that are wallowing for years in our jails?"
Ms Lloyd says many of the boys are from villages where birth certificate documentation does not exist.
"No child anywhere around the world should be in an adult jail," she said.
"The Australian Federal Police should be using their resources to contact the families of these young Indonesians in Indonesia and obtain affidavits or some other evidence of their age from the families."
Boys in an adult nightmare
Dozens of Indonesian children are locked up in Australian jails wrongly accused of being people smugglers.
Faisal Aryad was 16 when he was offered a job as a kitchen hand on what he was told was a fishing boat. The offer of $500 was a fortune - almost two years' pay - for a boy living with his mother and grandmother in a dirt-poor fishing village in West Timor.
When passengers boarded the boat, he was told it was for a sightseeing tour of the surrounding islands. The next thing he knew, he told his lawyers, their boat was picked up by an Australian navy ship with guns and he was put in detention and then jail.
"The people smugglers simply get naive people, and the youths fall into that category," said Faisal's Brisbane lawyer, David Svoboda.
"These kids sit in villages with no work. Recruiters walk into the village offering $500. They tell them they will be met by a ship to pick these people up at their destination. When a ship rolls in and it's full of cannons, it's really surprising. These kids are genuinely surprised it's the Australian navy."
The Australian Federal Police did not believe that Faisal was 16. They decided to give him a widely discredited wrist X-ray test that estimated his age to be 19. The AFP charged Faisal with people smuggling and he was put in the Arthur Gorrie maximum-security jail in Brisbane, which houses paedophiles among its inmates.
Eight months later, the charges have been withdrawn after Svoboda flew to Indonesia to gather proof of Faisal's age.
Faisal's case was one of two due to go to court last Wednesday. But the charges were dropped because the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions could not prove the accused were adults. The boys, both from Kupang, will now be sent back to their families.
The cases highlight the plight of dozens of Indonesians who say they are children and who are incarcerated in adult jails around Australia.
The government told Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young in Parliament last week that there were 25 people in custody claiming to be under age. The AFP said in a statement on Friday that there were 34 cases of Indonesian nationals in jail in which age was being disputed. The Indonesian consulate-general in Sydney believes there are about 50.
Whatever the correct number, the jailings have sparked a growing outrage among lawyers, diplomats, politicians and human rights activists in Australia and Indonesia.
This is particularly so when measured against Indonesia's treatment of the 14-year-old Australian boy from Lake Macquarie, NSW, who appeared in court in Bali on Thursday, accompanied by his father, and pleaded for leniency on drug charges.
"We have one boy over there who is getting KFC sent in and is in a room [near] his parents," Svoboda said. "These kids aren't getting too much nasi goreng delivered to Arthur Gorrie [prison], are they?"
The jailings in Australia have angered Indonesian lawyers and activists who staged a little-reported protest outside the Australian embassy in Jakarta two weeks ago, calling for the federal government to release the teenagers and send them home.
Indonesian diplomats in Australia are so concerned they have enlisted the help of a barrister, Mark Plunkett, to investigate the cases.
They also want the government to put in place a co-ordinated, consistent plan to establish the proper ages of the teenagers.
Plunkett said it would involve visits to families and villages in Indonesia, where birth documentation is rare, to obtain credible information about their ages.
"They don't make any effort to check whether they are children or not," Plunkett said. "They rely on junk science and don't even bother to call their parents.
"Police don't even do the most basic investigation 101: find mum and dad," he said.
The AFP, however, said in a statement that it did seek the help of the Indonesian National Police and other Indonesian authorities to gather as much information as possible for age determination inquiries.
Plunkett helped secure the release of three teenagers in July. They had been accused of lying about their ages. He travelled to Indonesia with Indonesian expert Tony Sheldon to gather affidavits and evidence from their village chief about their age.
The jailing of the boys was "despicable" and a breach of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, he said.
He also said the imprisoning of the children could be "actionable". The boys had been brought into court in manacles and had been subjected to cavity searches when put into Arthur Gorrie prison.
In that case, the AFP had ignored advice from the Immigration Department and documentary evidence, in the form of birth extracts, to pursue prosecutions against the three teenagers from Roti Island - Ose Lani, who said he was 15, and John Ndollu and Ako Lani, who said they were 16.
They had worked as deck hands and cooks on a boat that arrived at Ashmore Reef last year. They spent months in Arthur Gorrie jail before being released when the court accepted they were children.
Other cases include that of Ardi, an illiterate orphan boy from the island of Lombok who says he was 16 when he was recruited.
Recruiters who turned up in his coastal village in February last year had offered him $550 to work as a deckhand on a boat taking foreigners around the islands.
Ardi's boat, full of Afghan asylum seekers, was picked up by an Australian customs vessel off Western Australia the next month. He spent 10 months in immigration detention without charge before being sent to the Arthur Gorrie adult jail in Brisbane on criminal remand. He had no form of identification and no way to prove his age.
His lawyer, also David Svoboda, made three trips to Indonesia to get the necessary papers. Eventually the charges were dropped and Ardi was sent home after 19 months behind bars.
Another boy, Mukhtar, says he was 15 when he was recruited from Roti. He was paid $400 to act as crew, and in late 2009 he was caught off Christmas Island. He was held for eight months in detention and then transferred to the maximum-security Hakea Prison in Perth, where other inmates included killers and paedophiles.
After a year and 11 months, a Perth court dismissed charges of people smuggling and he was sent home last month.
Federal government policy is that children acting as crew on boats carrying asylum seekers should not be charged but sent home. Adult crew members are charged with people smuggling offences and face five-year mandatory jail sentences.
An AFP spokesman said there "is an onus on the AFP to charge and bring before the courts all adults involved in people-smuggling endeavours.
"Where all available information indicates the person is a minor, and there are no exceptional circumstances, the person is returned to their country of origin," the spokesman said.
"Statistics since September 2008 indicate that about one in three (38 of 107) of those people who undergo an age determination test are returned to their country of origin.
Plunkett says if there is any doubt at all, the crew members should be sent home.
But many of the Indonesian crew who say they are aged 14 to 17 end up facing people smuggling charges as adults because the AFP has continued to use the widely discredited Greulich and Pyle wrist X-ray test, despite being warned by international experts that it is unethical and unreliable, and has been banned in Britain.
The AFP has argued that it is the only prescribed method under the law to check a person's age.
However, federal police use of the method has not gone well. The Commonwealth prosecutor's office has confirmed that 32 cases, including the two last week, have been dropped because the test could not be relied on in court.
But one of the cases that has not been dropped is that of Sam (not his real name), who says he was 15 when he arrived as a cook on an asylum seeker boat in April last year.
His mother and sister, who spoke to a Perth journalist from their home on the outskirts of Solo, in central Java, insist he was born in April 1995.
The AFP did not believe him and gave him the wrist X-ray, which put his age at over 18. He was charged and has been in Perth's Hakea jail ever since, awaiting trial on people smuggling charges.
Catherine Branson, QC, president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, has raised serious concerns about the processes used for determining age in criminal proceedings, particularly wrist X-rays.
"The use of wrist X-rays for determining age may have led to errors in age determination, with the result that some children may have been incarcerated in adult prisons," she said.
"The commission has recently received notifications from 11 Indonesian nationals detained in adult prisons who claim to be children."
Branson said it forwarded the details to the Attorney-General's Department and was waiting for a response. The commission is considering what further action it might be able to take.
A spokeswoman for Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor said the government had already asked the AFP to improve its processes for age determination, including offering dental X-rays, more thorough attempts to get information about people from their homes and families, and additional interview techniques.
The improved processes are too late for Faisal Aryad, who has already spent eight months in detention and jail.
However, it is hoped this week the authorities will finally fly him home to his village in Kupang to be reunited with his anxious mother and grandmother.