SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia faced increased pressure to reform its immigration system after a report on Wednesday showed more than a third of refugee children detained under those policies had developed a mental illness requiring psychiatric care.
The Australian Human Rights Commission's inquiry into onshore and offshore detention centers also found nearly 300 instances of actual or threatened self-harm among roughly 800 children held in the camps between January 2013 and March 2014.
Charities joined the commission's call for improvement in immigration practices.
The Australian government has been criticized at home and abroad for its tough immigration policies. Those include sending asylum seekers to camps in impoverished Papua New Guinea and Nauru, where they face long periods of detention while their applications are processed.
But polls show the policies, which were central to Conservative Prime Minister Tony Abbott's successful election campaign in 2013, remain popular with voters in a country with a rising wave of illegal immigrants.
The report, titled "the Forgotten Children", said there appeared to be no rational explanation for prolonged detention of children and called for a government investigation.
"The mandatory and prolonged immigration detention of children is in clear violation of international human rights law," the report said.
The commission proposed a ban on indefinite detention, closure of an immigration camp on Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean and release of children held on the South Pacific island of Nauru. Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said many of the recommendations were superfluous, while others "would mean undermining the very policies that mean children don't get on boats in the first place". Attorney General George Brandis said the government did not accept the commission's findings.
Amnesty International said the report made it clear that all children and their parents must be released from detention centers.
Child detention advocacy group ChilOut's campaign coordinator Claire Hammerton said children should only be detained as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate time.
"This report highlights our dramatic failure to uphold our obligations, by detaining children arbitrarily as punishment for seeking asylum," she said.
Reporting by Jim Regan; Editing by Larry King