'Taking away basic rights of children': Calls for age of criminal responsibility be raised in Australia


Doctors, lawyers and human rights advocates from across Australia are calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to at least 14 years.

Doctors, lawyers and human rights experts are demanding the age of criminal responsibility be raised Australia-wide so that troubled primary school kids don't face a future behind bars.

On Friday the Northern Territory government accepted the youth justice royal commission's recommendation for an Australian-first increase in the age a child can be charged, brought to court and imprisoned from 10 years to 12.

A collective of health, legal and indigenous advocates are now calling on other states and territories to lift their criminal liability benchmarks to at least 14 years around the rest of the country.

The Royal Australasian College of Physicians says a 10-year-old's brain is drastically different to that of an adult's, and youngsters should not be incarcerated as a consequence.

"Children of this age have relatively immature brain development when it comes to decision-making, organisation, impulse control and planning for their future," RACP Senior Fellow Dr Mick Creati said.

Around 600 Australian kids under 14 are locked up each year, nearly 70 per cent of which are indigenous, according to National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services.

"Removing children as young as ten from their families and forcing them into the criminal justice system takes away their basic rights as children to learn, grow and thrive," co-chair Wayne Muir said.

These kids are more likely to become entangled in a life of crime, and the NT inquiry has recommended Aboriginal community-led early intervention and diversion instead of punitive measures, Human Rights Law Centre's Ruth Barson says.

"Our governments must seize this historic opportunity to modernise our youth justice systems, or risk another Don Dale," she said.

The United Nations has repeatedly rebuked Australia for maintaining such a low age of criminal responsibility, and UNICEF Australia says age 14 is the most common international standard which considers the emotional, mental, and intellectual maturity of young offenders.

"We encourage Australian governments to catch up with the rest of the world," UNICEF Australia Director of Policy and Advocacy Amy Lamoin said.

The calls are also backed by the Australian Indigenous Doctors' Association and the Lowitja Institute.

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