An Indigenous justice worker who spent more than half of his life "behind bars" has told the UN Human Rights Council that Australia should stop detaining youth offenders as young as 10 years old.
Keenan Mundine, whose parents both died during his troubled childhood in 'The Block', first entered juvenile custody at age 14.
"My first night in that cell was the loneliest of my life," he told the council.
Mundine eventually spent most of his twenties in jail. Since leaving custody three years ago, he has gotten married, had children and started an Aboriginal justice consulting agency.
This week Mundine travelled to Geneva with the Human Rights Law Centre to speak at the UNHCR.
“I have spent more than half of my life behind bars,” he told the council.
“This year alone, around 600 children under the age of 14 will be taken from their families and communities and locked up. Most of these children are Indigenous – like me.”
The royal commission into Northern Territory youth justice recommended ending detention for children aged under 14, except for serious crimes. It also recommended elevating the age of criminal responsibility to 12.
Mundine also wants Australian state and territory governments to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.
“This one simple change to our laws will make a very big difference,” he said.
“Indigenous children in Australia deserve what I was denied - equality and freedom.”
Last month, a parliamentary committee was told that all “100%” of children held in detention in the Northern Territory are Aboriginal – a figure which has not changed since the royal commission.
In Australia, an average of 600 children under the age of 14 serve sentences in youth detention every year, about 70 per cent of which are Indigenous children.
The median age of criminal responsibility around the world is 14 years of age, as endorsed by many international human rights organisations, which base their recommendation on scientific studies showing that, on average, children younger than 14 are not developmentally mature enough to be criminally liable.