Amnesty International thanks the Indigenous children who participated in the Raise the Age launch on Larrakia land on 28 August 2018. © Pasquale Tassone

It’s time to act on United Nations’, experts and community calls to raise the age

Australia has been urged by a committee of international experts to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years of age.

The Committee on the Rights of the Child (the Committee) convened in Geneva between 9 – 10 September, reviewing Australia for compliance against the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). In its Concluding Observations, released overnight, the Committee noted its regret that Australia’s ignored it’s previous recommendations to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least fourteen.   

“This is a scathing assessment from the UN children’s body. It isn’t just “regrettable” though that our country locks up ten year olds contrary to expert recommendations, it is an absolute embarrassment,” Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Manager, Tammy Solonec, said.

“Amnesty International Australia, joined by Indigenous organisations and leaders, lawyers, and human rights and health experts, has been campaigning for some time to raise the age. More than 30,000 people have signed our petition calling on the Federal Government and all States and Territories to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least fourteen.

“We know locking kids up causes serious harm at a crucial time of development, when kids are being shaped into the adults they will become.

“Children get caught in the quicksand of the justice system and find it hard to pull themselves out. We know that kids locked up for the first time before they are fourteen are three times more likely to reoffend and return to prison later in life. 

“This issue is worse for Indigenous kids. Approximately 70% of children between the ages of 10-14 imprisoned in Australia are Indigenous. Overall, Indigenous kids are 25 times more likely to be locked up than non-Indigenous kids.

The Council of Attorneys-General is meeting on 29 November in Adelaide to discuss a review led by a departmental working group into raising the age of criminal responsibility that has been underway this year. 

“The upcoming Council of Attorneys-General meeting is the perfect opportunity for the Attorney-General to make a firm commitment to lead reform across the country to raise the age of criminal responsibility,” Ms Solonec said.  

The Committee found that Australia needs greater leadership on children’s rights – including the lack of a child focused national law and limited opportunities for children’s voices to be heard at a national level.

“The Committee found that prevention and diversion should be the first response for children who come into contact with the criminal justice system, echoing all the evidence gathered in Australia and around the world. It also recommended that the Government immediately implement the 2018 recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry ‘Pathways to Justice’ which examined Indigenous incarceration. The Commonwealth Attorney General Christian Porter has ignored the report for more than a year, despite it being convened by the Government


“We know these are better, more effective solutions than locking kids up; it’s time to act on the overwhelming evidence and implement the CRC’s latest recommendation,” she said.

Background

On 9 and 10 Sept 2019 Australia was reviewed by the Committee on the Rights of the Child at the Human Rights Council in Geneva for compliance against the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Twelve year old star of ‘In My Blood It Runs’ Dujuan travelled to Switzerland with his family and spoke to the Committee.

The Concluding Observations of the Committee can be found here

The Committee found that Australia needs greater leadership on rights issues facing kids – including:

  • a child focused national law, 
  • a comprehensive strategy to advance and monitor kid’s rights,
  • the absence of data to monitor the rights of kids in Australia, and
  • limited opportunities for kid’s voices to be heard at a national level.

The Committee urged Australia to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 and invest more in diversion programs for kids, to address the over representation of Indigenous kids in the care and criminal justice systems, the high level of violence experienced by children, and child homelessness.

Australian Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell will conduct a review of CRC’s findings which Australia will be asked to report back on in a year.

Amnesty International welcomed the Committee’s adoption of General Comment 24 last week regarding ‘Children’s rights in juvenile justice’, which calls on all States to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14. 

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Joel Clark is a Government Relations Adviser at Amnesty International Australia.