16 November 2021

Australia’s Attorneys-General have indicated a proposal will be developed to raise the age of criminal responsibility in children from 10 to12, two years short of the international standard. This is despite strong and consistent calls from the health, education, legal and community services sectors that the incarceration of children under 14 is highly detrimental to their long-term health and wellbeing.

Whilst Life Without Barriers is supportive that the Council of Attorneys-General is considering raising the age of criminal responsibility, the proposal to do so to 12 is just not enough.

Chief Executive Claire Robbs says Life Without Barriers joins calls to implore the Council of Attorneys-General to heed the deep concern held nationally and internationally about the need to bring the age of criminal responsibility to be at least in line with international human rights recommendations.

“Children under the age of 14 are minors in every other aspect of law and society. We don’t consider them able to make decisions and accept the responsibility of driving a car or voting. In most states children can’t even consent to healthcare about themselves until 14, yet our legal system currently says they can commit a crime and be placed in prison.

"Children as young as 10 can still be found guilty of a criminal offence, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced across Australia. Life Without Barriers says this is an alarming and serious problem, particularly for children in out-of-home care. The agency joined the campaign to #raisetheage of criminal responsibility to a minimum of 14 years."

Chief Executive Claire Robbs says Life Without Barriers provides support to thousands of children in child protection and knows that children in out-of-home care are more likely to have interactions with the criminal justice system despite already being one of the most vulnerable groups in society.

“Incarcerating children is counterproductive to our future society, and it does not work. It has been proven to entrench offending, or at best, achieve no reduction in the rate or severity of future offending,” Robbs said.

“Instead of imprisoning young children and punishing them through traditional measures, we need to have services that are compassionate, adequately resourced and trauma-informed. We can do much better than prison for little children.”

Statistics from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that merely raising the age to 12 would make little impact on the system with less than 12% of children jailed nationally being under the age of 12. Furthermore, children who receive child protection services, are nine times more likely to come into contact with the youth justice system, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are 17 times more likely to be involved in both child protection and youth justice.

Australia’s minimum age of criminal responsibility lags behind the rest of the world, with the global median age being 14. In 2019, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called on all countries, including Australia, to raise the age to 14.

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