Amnesty International has signed on to a joint letter calling on Australian attorneys-general to raise the age of criminal responsibility from age 10 to age 12, in line with international law and reflecting evidence about children's brain development.

The open letter facilitated by Jesuit Social Services has been released alongside a discussion paper, Too much too young: Raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Attorneys-General,

The undersigned signatories wish to express our concern that the current minimum age of criminal responsibility in Australia is out of step with international law, and with evidence about children’s brain development that clearly demonstrates that children under 12 years lack the necessary capacities for full criminal responsibility – and many do not gain these capacities until 15.

As we enter International Children’s Week, it is timely to reflect on our national observance of children’s rights and promotion of children’s best interests. We urge you to reform the law in each of your jurisdictions to increase the age of criminal responsibility to 12 years, in line with the absolute minimum age that the United Nations has ruled for jurisdictions to hold children criminally responsible.

The most effective way we can respond to the needs and vulnerability of these children is not to further victimise and punish them, but to address entrenched and persistent disadvantage in the community, including in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and put in place the necessary measures to protect children from harm..

We also urge the maintenance of the doli incapax transitional protection for children as they develop the necessary cognitive skills, and extension of this protection to children under 15. The document that accompanies this letter outlines in more detail the evidence around children’s development that we believe should inform criminal legislation pertaining to children.

The paper also draws attention to the serious disadvantage and vulnerability that is common among children with behaviours that bring them to the attention of police, and the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. The most effective way we can respond to the needs and vulnerability of these children is not to further victimise and punish them, but to address entrenched and persistent disadvantage in the community, including in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, and put in place the necessary measures to protect children from harm, and to respond to neglect and abuse when it occurs.

We are happy discuss the contents of this letter in more detail.

Yours sincerely,

Sally Parnell Acting CEO

On behalf of:

Amnesty International

Anglicare Victoria

ANTaR

Australian Council of Social Services

Berry Street

CatholicCare Melbourne

Catholic Social Services Victoria

Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare

Centre for Multicultural Youth

Change the Record Coalition

Criminal Lawyers Association of the Northern Territory

Federation of Community Legal Centres (VIC)

Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand

Human Rights Legal Centre

Just Reinvest NSW

Law Institute of Victoria

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services

National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum

Northern Territory Council of Social Service

Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission

Oxfam Australia

Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care

Sisters Inside

Smart Justice for Young People

Victoria Legal Aid

Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People, Bernie Geary OAM

Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Andrew Jackomos

Victorian Council of Social Service

Vincentcare Victoria

Western Community Legal Centre Ltd

Whitelion

Youth Affairs Council of Victoria

Youthlaw - Young People's Legal Right's Centre