• Meena Singh says Australia's refusal to act will mean more First Nations children ending up behind bars. (Human Rights Law Centre)Source: Human Rights Law Centre
Australia's human rights record is under scrutiny after the Federal Government rejected UN recommendations to raise the age of criminal responsibility.
Keira Jenkins

9 Jul 2021 - 12:40 PM  UPDATED 9 Jul 2021 - 12:52 PM

The Australian Government has rejected calls from the United Nations to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

The government appeared before the UN Human Rights Council last night for the Universal Periodic Review, which occurs every five years.

More than 120 countries made 250 recommendations to Australia to improve its human rights record with one of the key issues flagged - raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14. 

Approximately 65 percent of incarcerated children aged between 10 and 13 in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Australia fronted the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday evening, as part of the Universal Period Review which occurs every five years.

Appearing before the committee, Australia's Permanent Representative to the UN Sally Mansfield did not accept the recommendation.

"Responsibility for criminal justice is shared between the federal, state and territory governments who are engaged in a process to consider this question, with some having announced an intention to raise the age within their respective jurisdictions," she said.

"Ultimately it will be a decision for each jurisdiction whether to raise the age of criminal responsibility." 

Currently, The ACT has passed legislation to raise the age to 14, while a New South Wales Parliamentary inquiry has recommended a similar rise. 

Dancing around the issue

Human Rights Law Centre legal director Meena Singh told NITV News this was an opportunity for Australia to get into step with international standards on this issue, but they failed.

"We can dance around the issue but it is really saying that children, and in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are not in the interests of this government," the Yorta Yorta woman said.

"To actually show leadership and support raising the age would be exactly the impetus that states and territories need."

Change the Record co-chair Cheryl Axleby echoed these concerns, calling Australia's treatment of First Nations children a "disgrace".

"Governments talk about Closing the Gap on one hand, but build new prisons and lock up children as young as 10 with the other," she said.

"...If the Morrison Government lacks the courage and decency to show leadership, we call on every state and territory government to step up and honour their promises to Close the Gap by raising the minimum age of Criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old."

Ms Singh said a failure to act means that children, and in particular First Nations children, will continue to be locked up.

"...While the Australian Government continues to refuse to show leadership on this issue, we have children - 10 years old - sitting in jails," she said.

"We can call them whatever we like but they're behind bars when they shouldn't be."

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