Amnesty International today welcomed a commitment by States and Territories to work on a proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility, but criticised a lack of leadership by not committing to a minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) of 14.
“This is not the compromise they think it is,” Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Campaigner Maggie Munn said. “It’s great that they understand there is widespread support for raising the age, but it’s weak to continue to delay this reform further.”
“It’s a kick in the guts to the kids languishing in detention and everyone who has campaigned for the chance for our kids to live happy and healthy lives free of the criminal justice system.
“The best evidence available led the Committee on the Rights of the Child to recommend 14 as a MACR in 2019 – and here we are two years later talking about raising the age to 12 – it’s devastating the Attorneys-General think so little of our kids and their futures.
“We hope the States and Territories with courage and the best interests of Australian children at heart continue to introduce their own legislation with haste, as the ACT has done. There’s no need to yoke themselves to this interminable process – they can act now and raise the age to 14.”
The age of criminal responsibility is the age in which a child is considered by law to have understood that their actions were wrong and can face criminal charges. All Australian states and territories have this age set at only 10 years old. This means that across Australia, police have the power to arrest, strip-search and imprison children who are only 10 – that’s typically a child in year three or four at primary school. Many Australians are actually unaware of the current age a child can be held criminally responsible for their actions; two thirds of Australians believe it to be 14.
Australia’s current treatment of children under criminal law violates their human rights under the Convention of the Rights of the Child. It also disproportionately impacts Indigenous kids, perpetuating cycles of racism and reoffending. Australia has also faced repeated criticism from the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination for not raising the age.