Save the Children is calling on the Australian Government to work with the states to urgently raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 following the latest horrifying revelations of the mistreatment of children in the criminal justice system.
The revelations, aired on the ABC’s Four Corners program last night, showed children as young as 10 being held in maximum security watch-houses in Queensland – sometimes for weeks on end – in facilities normally reserved for some of the most dangerous adult offenders.
Most of the children featured have not yet been convicted of a crime.
Save the Children Acting CEO Mat Tinkler said the story reinforced the urgent need for Australia to get in step with international standards, where the average age of criminal responsibility is 14.
“It should be a matter of national priority that Australia raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14. No 10-year-old should ever be imprisoned, let alone subjected to the conditions shown on Four Corners,” Mr Tinkler said.
“It is outrageous that Australia, which prides itself on being a forward thinking, modern nation, should be such a laggard on this issue. Treating children as young as 10 as criminals traps them in a cycle of disadvantage from which many never emerge.
“Instead of jailing children we should be fixing a system that is very clearly broken, and providing these children with the necessary support to address their underlying issues.
“The evidence is clear. Criminalising children disproportionately harms those who are already the most disadvantaged – especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. United Nations human rights organisations have repeatedly called Australia’s minimum age too low. It’s time Australia listened, starting by raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14.”
Around 600 children under the age of 14 are imprisoned in youth detention centres in Australia each year. Of these, approximately 70 per cent are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.
A working group initiated by the Federal Attorney General and supported by state Attorneys General was formed late last year to investigate whether to raise the minimum age from 10. It is due to report back in November 2019, but these decisions must be fast-tracked in light of the latest evidence.
Save the Children has extensive firsthand experience running programs across Australia that demonstrate how early intervention, diversion and rehabilitative approaches can change the trajectory of child’s life forever.
Save the Children’s Mobile Youth Vans in Queensland support and engage some of Australia’s most vulnerable, at-risk and hard-to-reach children through music, digital media and sport. The program also operates as an engagement service that gets young people off the streets and reduces anti-social behaviour at night.
The organisation’s Out Teach program targets children who have already interacted with the criminal justice system. Piloted with great success in Tasmania, the program has now been expanded to Victoria. Meanwhile the Youth Partnership Project in Western Australia brings together police, government agencies and community organisations to support children with complex needs.