By Kirsty Needham, Sydney Morning Herald. From

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

Serco officers had told a group of Darwin residents, 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 couldn’t be distributed because “the children might draw on the walls”. Other visitors to detention centres have also reported being told not to give pencils to children.

It is understood Serco had stopped child detainees from using crayons and pencils outside of group classes, and they couldn’t be used in family rooms, even under parental supervision.

The Greens and refugee groups said yesterday the restriction would impair children’s development, and was in breach of Serco’s contract.

“Preschool children learn how to write by first learning how to mark paper with crayons. It is a necessary part of the early childhood education process,” said Kate Gauthier, chairwoman of ChilOut (Children Out of Immigration Detention), which helped raise $15,000 to buy presents for children in detention centres nationally.

The 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 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”.

A department spokeswoman said: “We regret there has been this slight delay in this single incident, and understand most of the 200 children have now received their gifts.” The spokeswoman said “safety procedures” are in place when goods enter a detention centre.


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