Concerns For Children On Nauru As Girl Reportedly Sets Herself Alight

Advocacy groups and health experts are imploring politicians to confront the severe psychological disorder affecting children on Nauru.

Distressing reports from Nauru have raised concerns among health experts and refugee advocacy groups after it was reported a 12-year-old detainee attempted to set herself on fire on Wednesday.

The young refugee is recovering in a hospital on the island, the Guardian reported, while a 17-year-old is also reportedly critically ill after refusing to eat and drink for weeks.

This report doesn't stand alone. On Tuesday, a 12-year-old Iranian refugee was airlifted to Australia from Nauru after he refused all food and medical treatment for almost three weeks. The child reportedly weighed 36 kilograms and was unable to sit or stand.

While the situation was widely reported as a hunger strike, health professionals and refugee advocacy groups believe he could have resignation syndrome -- a rare and life-threatening psychiatric condition which presents as a progressive and extensive withdrawal from all activities, including eating, drinking and socializing due to trauma.

Photos of the children on Nauru were released just three days ago. Image: World Vision Australia

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said there are more than 100 children currently living on Nauru, and all  are showing signs of withdrawal and a subsequent deterioration.

"There are just no healthy children (on Nauru)," ASRC's director of advocacy and campaign, Jana Favero, told ten daily.

"Key development years of their lives have been impacted and so they are suffering symptoms such as no longer being able to eat, being able to sleep, being able to speak, being able to take in fluids – they’re lying comatose and unconscious in their beds."

Resignation syndrome has been documented in hundreds of young refugees and asylum seekers in Sweden, where children essentially withdrew from the world and entered a coma-like state.

Nauru is an island the size of Melbourne airport. Photo: Getty.

Health experts are concerned it is occurring on Nauru, after children who have spent up to five years-- or, in the case of many born on the island, their entire lives-- in the traumatic conditions of the detention centres.

“The worst things I’m hearing of are kids aged between 0-3 who aren’t even able to develop or to speak because of what they’re seeing and experienced," Favero said.

"Kids who are so comatose that their parents can’t get water and food into their limp bodies. It’s the worst situation you could possibly imagine for children to be in.”

If untreated, children can become catatonic or die. Favero says medical experts on Nauru are unable to treat the affected children on the island.

"It’s something that cannot be treated on Nauru because Nauru is the problem and their life on Nauru is the problem," she said.

Image 2018 © AAP/JEREMY NG
Sydney protests in July

A coalition of more than 30 advocacy groups are lobbying politicians as part of the 'Kids off Nauru' campaign are calling for the children to be brought to Australia by Universal Children's Day on November 20th.

While the nation may be busy watching Canberra's unfolding leadership spill, Favero is currently in the capital to lobby on behalf of the campaign, hopeful action will be taken before a child loses their life on Nauru.