Amnesty International Australia welcomes yesterday’s passing of the Age of Criminal Responsibility amendment bill in the ACT Legislative Assembly, meaning children under the age of 14 will only be charged, convicted and incarcerated for criminal charges under exceptional circumstances. However, Amnesty International calls for the ACT government to reconsider exceptions in the legislation that would still lead to some 12- and 13-year-olds facing the criminal justice system.
Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Campaigner Kacey Teerman, said: “Families and communities in the ACT can now breathe easier, knowing their kids will be far less likely to see the inside of a prison cell. These changes will have a profound impact on the lives of Indigenous kids in particular, who are already over-represented in the ACT’s criminal justice system. We know that community-led, culturally appropriate interventions can help prevent the negative, life-long impacts that incarceration has on children. But we remain concerned that the ACT’s legislation still contains exceptions, when we know that all children under 14 don’t have the development and maturity to fully comprehend their actions and the consequences.
“With the Northern Territory raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12 earlier this year, the other jurisdictions must now follow the leadership of the ACT in lifting the age of criminal responsibility to 14. This is in line with our international obligations and with the urgent recommendation of First Nations communities, human rights organisations, and health and legal experts. Children sitting in prison cells cannot wait. We need to get them back home to their families and communities, where they can heal.
Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Advisor and Palawa Elder, Uncle Rodney Dillon, earlier this week said “The government and systems are not addressing issues as to why our kids are being locked up, especially issues regarding health and education. To the Australian government, we have had kids who have died under your system, and you’ve done nothing about it. They were already told that this would happen and so when a child dies, who are we to hold responsible? When there is a death in the workplace, someone is always held accountable for it. But who are we to hold responsible for death after death? There are kids dying by suicide, who are we to hold accountable?”
Amnesty International Australia supports the Raise the Age campaign, and acknowledges the hard work of First Nations Elders, communities and organisations, as well as human rights activists and advocates, in securing this important win. Kacey Teerman said “Activists and advocates have fought hard to raise the age across the country, and they should feel proud to see the ACT listen and act to protect vulnerable young people. In particular, the late Sophie Trevitt made a huge contribution to this work, and this is now a part of her incredible legacy.”
Since 2018, Amnesty has been tirelessly campaigning to raise the age of criminal responsibility in Australia from 10 to 14.
The age of criminal responsibility is the age at which a child is considered by law to have understood that their actions were wrong and can face criminal charges. All Australian states have this age set at only 10 years old, and at 12 years old in the NT. Australia has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world – the global average is 14 years old. We have been repeatedly criticised by the United Nations, most recently by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, for failing to reform the current minimum age.
Indigenous children are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the criminal justice system, they are disproportionately impacted and make up the vast majority of imprisoned children. Indigenous children are locked up at 17 times the rate of non-Indigenous children, despite making up just 6% of the Australian population aged 10-17. Of all children under 14 imprisoned between 2017-2021, 65% were Indigenous and 68% hadn’t even been convicted of any crime.