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Raising the age of criminal responsibility in Australia

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Raising the age of criminal responsibility in Australia

Legislation  |   By Mckenna Taylor

This week, Australia’s state and federal attorney-generals will meet to discuss raising the age of criminal responsibility to children aged at least 14 years. Currently, children as young as ten can be remanded in custody, found guilty of a criminal offence and sentenced to a term of imprisonment across all Australian jurisdictions.

This approach falls well below international human rights standards, with the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child calling on countries to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least fourteen years old.

Research has shown that young children cannot fully understand the criminal nature of their behaviour, because the parts of their brains that regulate judgement, decision-making and impulse control are still developing, which means that they cannot foresee the consequences of their actions.

Young children who come into contact with the criminal justice system are also more likely to go onto reoffend in the future, which creates a cycle of disadvantage and forces children to become entrenched in the criminal justice system.

It is also important to highlight that this is an issue that disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, as they currently make up more than 65% of young children in prisons. Governments are being encouraged to stop putting young children behind bars, and instead fund Indigenous-led solutions and community programs that have better outcomes for children and communities.