Australia’s governments must stop locking up 10-year-old children and raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14, says Jesuit Social Services chief executive Julie Edwards.
“It is deeply disappointing that the Council of Attorneys-General has ... deferred recommendations relating to the age of criminal responsibility until 2020. This means our states and territories will continue to incarcerate primary school-aged children against the advice of medical and child developmental experts as well as the United Nations,” Ms Edwards said.
“The evidence is clear: children under 14 do not possess the neurological maturity to form criminal intent and we are incarcerating and harming children who are victims of trauma, abuse and mental illness when they need support to get their lives on track.
“We acknowledge that public consultation around this issue in 2020 will allow child welfare experts to advocate for change – but the research is in and [this] was an opportunity for the Council of Attorneys-General to show leadership and recommend the immediate raising of the age of criminal responsibility across Australia.”
Currently, Australian children as young as 10 can be sentenced to detention. This lags behind countries including Germany, Japan, Spain, Vietnam, Denmark and Portugal.
Each year about 600 children aged between the ages of 10 and 14 are incarcerated in Australia. About 70 per cent of them are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
The 2018-2019 Youth Parole Board Annual Report reveals that in a survey of children and young people in Victoria’s Parkville and Malmsbury youth justice centres, 67 per cent were victims of abuse, trauma or neglect, 68 per cent had been expelled or suspended from school, 48 per cent had a mental health issue, 38 per cent had cognitive difficulties that affected their daily functioning and 27 per cent had self-harmed or thought of suicide. 79 per cent had drugs, alcohol or both in their system when they offended.
“In deferring this very important matter until next year, the Council of Attorneys-General has condemned more Australian children to incarceration in 2020.
“All children are worth a second chance – that’s why our youth justice systems need to be better.”
Australian Governments must stop locking up 10-year old children (Jesuit Social Services)
Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility: There is a better way (Jesuit Social Services)