States a step closer to raising the age of criminal responsibility

Change the Record, an Aboriginal-led coalition of legal and health experts, said the proposal from the Australian state attorneys-general did nothing to improve the lives of children.

“The medical evidence is clear: governments should raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old as a bare minimum,” Change the Record co-chair Cheryl Axleby said.

The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS), the Human Rights Law Centre and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service also condemned the proposal on Saturday.

“We are sick and tired of meaningless statements and commitments,” NATSILS executive officer Jamie McConnachie said.

“Raising the age to at least 14 is one action that Australian governments can take right now that will have an immediate and generational impact to end the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids and give our kids a brighter future,” Ms McConnachie said.

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According to figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 499 children aged between 10 and 13 were imprisoned last year. About 91 per cent were aged 12 or over.

More than half of children aged 10-17 in detention on any given day were Indigenous, despite making up only 6 per cent of the overall population.

Figures from the Victorian government in July show the number of children incarcerated in the state is relatively low, with three young people aged 13 on remand at that time.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years, citing research that the capacity for reasoning is not fully developed in children aged 12 and 13.

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Thirty-one member states of the UN, including Canada, Sweden and Spain, urged Australia to raise the age during a UN Human Rights Council periodic review in January.

A Victorian government spokesperson said on Saturday that the state would continue to “work with Commonwealth and other jurisdictions on this important issue and will have more to say as that process continues”.

The West Australian and NSW governments were also approached for comment on Saturday.

No government had acted since a draft report commissioned by Australia’s attorneys-general, leaked to media last month, recommended all governments raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14.

The report suggested two alternatives: lifting the minimum age to 12 or raising it to 14 with carve-outs for serious crimes such as murder, terrorism and sexual assault.

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