More than 600 children have been detained under controversial immigration laws, despite claims from ministers four years ago that they would bring the practice to an end.
In December 2010, Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg criticised the “shameful” decision to lock up innocent youngsters and said that child detention would stop in all but the most exceptional cases.
At the time, the Liberal Democrat leader predicted that powers would only be exercised on a handful of occasions.
Now however the Independent newspaper has sifted through Home Office statistics and found that the Coalition has failed to make good on its promise.
A total of 661 children, many of them under 12-years-old, have been placed in holding facilities since Mr Clegg’s speech. And the number seems to be growing year-on-year.
More troubling still is that many of the youngsters have been held for weeks at a time and that half of those were in the end allowed to remain in this country, undermining the Deputy Prime Minister’s claim that the rules would only apply to those who were shortly going to be deported from the UK.
Simon Parker, of the End Child Detention Now campaign group, said: “Although the numbers of children being detained are considerably lower than under the previous government, what Nick Clegg called ‘state-sponsored cruelty’ is still happening to hundreds of vulnerable children.
“It is time that we ended this unnecessary and harmful practice once and for all.”
Concerns have previously been raised about the long-term effects of detention at sites such as The Cedars “pre-departure” centre, near Gatwick.
Matthew Reed, the chief executive of The Children’s Society, said: “Detention can seriously harm their mental and physical health, even if they are held for a short time. Many have already been traumatised by such experiences as persecution or trafficking.”