Oxfam Australia has called on the nation’s attorneys-general to urgently heed expert advice and international best practice by lifting the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years of age.
The organisation’s Chief Executive Lyn Morgain said current policies nationwide were not in the best interests of children and were disproportionately harming First Nations children and their families, as they are massively over-represented in youth detention facilities.
Oxfam was concerned to learn of an agreement at the Meeting of Attorneys-General (MAG) last week to merely “develop a proposal” for lifting the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years.
“Australians are appalled to learn that children as young as 10 are being locked up. As a democratic nation that aspires to the highest standards of government, Australia should show greater care for children who encounter the justice system,” Ms Morgain said.
“We know that incarcerating children between the ages of 10 and 14 does more harm than good and perpetuates a vicious cycle of disadvantage.”
In 2019, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended 14 years as the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Numerous medical and legal organisations have supported this shift, including the AMA and the Law Council of Australia.
Lifting the age to 12, rather than 14, would leave 91% of the 499 children currently in prison behind bars. Around half of these children identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, even though they make up just 6% of the child population. Alarmingly, two-thirds of the children in detention are on remand and yet to receive a sentence.
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