The revelations come from paediatricians who have detailed their concerns to the ABC about the child and the wellbeing and safety of about 160 other children held in Australia’s detention centres.
Paediatrician Karen Zwi, speaking despite the threat of jail, said the young child suffered serious mental health problems after the alleged sexual assault.
“Like many other children who are very distressed he regressed, he began bed-wetting, he became very anxious about his mother’s wellbeing, he actually began to self-harm, as I’ve seen several other children do as well and eventually he was transferred over to the mainland for treatment,” Dr Zwi said.
She said the child’s greatest fear was returning to Nauru.
“That is this huge cloud hanging over him. That he will be returned to an absolutely traumatic and devastating environment for him.”
The boy’s fate is likely to hang on the result of a High Court decision about a challenge to the Federal Government’s policy of sending asylum seekers arriving by boat to detention at centres on Manus Island and Nauru, that will be delivered tomorrow.
If the court case fails, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has flagged his intentions of sending the group of 160 adults, 37 babies and 54 other children back to Nauru.
In exclusive interviews, two young women spoke to the ABC, giving first-hand accounts of the horrific conditions children are enduring in offshore detention centres.
One of the girls, “Jamilah”, from Somalia, said being in detention on Christmas Island had broken her spirit.
“My friends, all of them, they were harming themselves. I tried to be strong and say that was not the right thing I could do,” she said.
“I was thinking killing myself was the last thing I could do in my life.”
Another girl, “Assiya”, who was held on Nauru for more than 12 months, told the ABC how she attempted to kill herself after daily taunts from her captors and being physically assaulted by a guard.
“I used to be a very strong person and always tried to think positive but they really break me down. There was a point I couldn’t think of life anymore,” she said.
“Sometimes the guards bring video of the Prime Minister and they make us watch it, saying you will never call Australia home. Same thing that they tell us every day.
“The more you try to do something, the more you get upset and hurt and treated like animals.”
She said she attempted to hang herself with a scarf and was saved by a friend from dying.
‘A mincing machine’ of traumatic events
After doctors raised concerns about the mental health of Assiya and Jamilah, both were transferred to the mainland for treatment.
But they face the prospect of being returned to detention at any time.
Dr Zwi said children kept in offshore detention had “been through a mincing machine”.
“They’ve had one traumatic event after another. Sometimes I feel they are broken into little bits and it’s really hard to put the pieces back together again,” she said.
“It’s almost impossible to help them to heal and recover if they know that they’re going to go back to that environment.”
Average detention time for children stretches to 14 months
Around 160 children are being held in detention by Australian authorities.
The figure has dropped from 2013, when the number of children detained reached almost 2,000. But children are being held for much longer, an average of 14 months.
On a visit to Nauru, paediatrician Hasantha Gunasekera said he was horrified to see how the children were suffering.
“We hardly ever see young children and adolescents so traumatised by life that they would want to take their own life,” Dr Gunasekera said.
“But in Nauru and in detention centres where kids have been kept, sometimes for most of their life, we see very young children who just can’t take it anymore and try to kill themselves or wanting to hurt themselves. Or saying things like, ‘I may as well just jump off the roof’.
Doctors speak out despite jail threat
Dr Gunasekera and Dr Zwi know they could be charged and jailed for speaking out about what they have seen in Australia’s detention centres.
Under the Border Force Act passed in 2014, anyone working in immigration detention, including doctors, faces two years’ imprisonment for revealing details of what goes on there.
“Paediatricians have a responsibility to make sure the system stops damaging children and that’s why many of us have chosen to speak out,” Dr Zwi said.
Dr Gunasekera said if Australians knew what was happening in offshore detention, they would be shocked.
“If the Australian people knew actually what was happening, if they saw the trauma on the faces of the kids like we saw,” he said.
“That’s why there is secrecy around every part of this policy, it’s because its so shameful.”
A spokesman for Mr Dutton said he would not be making any comments about the High Court challenge until after the announcement.
“We will wait to see what the court decides and make comment after that,” he said.
The spokesman said $11 million had been provided for the medical clinic on Nauru.
“There are 25 primary health staff, doctors, nurses and specialists, at the clinic at the processing centre,” he said.
“There are 15 mental health staff, with 10 support and administrative staff.”
He said funding of $26 million had been provided for upgrades at the Nauru Hospital, with health care to an Australian standard.