More than 1,300 children were detained at three immigration removal centres in the UK during a 15-month period, figures revealed today.
A total of 884 children were held at Yarl's Wood immigration removal centre in Bedfordshire between July 2008 and July 2009, 328 children at the Tinsley House centre near Gatwick Airport between September 1 2008 and August 31 2009, and 103 children at the Dungavel centre in Scotland between October 2008 and September 18 2009.
The figures were in a letter from Immigration Minister Phil Woolas to Scottish National Party MP Pete Wishart, the party's home affairs spokesman.
It also revealed that between April 2004 and September 2009 a total of 889 children from 488 families had been detained for more than 28 days - something which has to be authorised by ministers.
Mr Wishart said: "Detaining children in centres made for adults is simply wrong.
"Whatever the position of the parents, children should not be detained behind barbed wire.
"That 103 children have been held in Scotland - where the Scottish Government is firmly against child detention is deeply disturbing. It's time for the UK Government to end this practice.
"These figures show nearly 200 children a year are being held for more than four weeks. Regardless of what provision is made for children in these centres they are that they are being held behind bars is unacceptable.
"I will be pursuing this issue with the UK Government. Children's welfare is not well served by the UK's actions and regardless of their parents immigration status children should not have to pay this price."
He accused the Government of "detaining the equivalent of a high school every year across the UK", claiming it was the first time statistics on the number of children held in such centres had been released.
However, the letter cautioned that these figures were not subject to the "detailed checks" that usually apply to official statistics.
It further added individual children may have been counted more than once, as they could have been transferred from one centre to another.
In his letter Mr Woolas stressed "the welfare of children is an issue which I take very seriously".
The minister added: "The UK Border Agency is introducing the duty of care to children through the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill.
"In addition a programme to improve statistics on people held in detention is under way. This will result in more statistics published, subject to data quality, in 2009. The programme of work will give a particular focus to detained children."
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