A broad cross-section of medical, children’s welfare, criminology, legal, Indigenous and human rights experts from around Australia have united with one voice, calling on Queensland’s Minister for Child Safety, Youth and Women Di Farmer to raise the minimum age that Queensland locks up children, from 10 to 14.
Members of all Queensland political parties were invited to a roundtable with seven experts at Brisbane Parliament House today, Wednesday 19 September.
Amnesty International also released a new briefing paper, The Sky is the Limit, outlining how Queensland is creating more adult offenders by locking up children as young as 10 years old. Such young children are three times more likely to become chronic adult offenders than children who are first locked up at age 14 or over.
With the new Queensland Youth Justice Strategy due for completion in November, the timing is crucial for Attorney General Yvette D’ath and Minister Farmer to make the shift.
Queensland locks up the highest number of 10- to 13-year-old children of any state or territory in Australia, and the cross-sector experts are calling for the state government to show national leadership and be the first in the country to raise this age.
Belinda Lowe, Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights Campaigner, said: “The latest medical evidence shows children must not be locked up before the age of 14, which also is the recommendation from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The median age kids are first locked up around the world is 14, so it’s time Queensland caught up, and stopped harming such very young children.”
“The latest medical evidence shows children must not be locked up before the age of 14, which also is the recommendation from the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. The median age kids are first locked up around the world is 14, so it’s time Queensland caught up, and stopped harming such very young children” – Amnesty International’s Indigenous Rights Campaigner Belinda Lowe
The experts at the roundtable included University of Technology Sydney’s Criminology Professor Chris Cunneen; Lady Cilento Hospital Paediatrician Dr Li-Zsa Tan from the Royal Australasian College of Physicians; University of Queensland Honorary Fellow and expert in Alcohol Related Developmental Disorders, Janet Hammill and Red Dust Healing’s co-founder Randall Ross.
They were joined by representatives from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service, the Human Rights Law Centre and Brisbane’s Youth Advocacy Centre, as well as Amnesty’s Belinda Lowe.
While these experts come from very different sectors, they have the same message for Minister Di Farmer: the solution is to raise the minimum age of criminality to 14 and to support young 10- to 13-year-old children to stay out of the justice system, through community-led programs.
“Young children must be held accountable for their actions and learn right from wrong, and all the evidence shows that the best way to do that is through guidance and mentoring, within the support of family and community,” said Belinda Lowe.
This echoes the findings in the recent Youth Justice Review, led by ex-Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson, that the Queensland Government would prevent offending and give Queensland children a much better chance of overcoming problems in their young lives by supporting them through community-led programs.
“It’s essential that Minister Farmer makes raising the age to 14 a cornerstone of the new youth justice strategy before the end of the year,” said Belinda Lowe.