The Central Australian Youth Justice (CAYJ) Network welcomes the vote by the ACT Legislative Assembly to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years, a change that, if enacted, will make sure vulnerable children who come into contact with police receive appropriate responses, instead of being funnelled through custody, courts and prison.
The ACT resolution calls on whichever party forms government after the ACT election in October to amend the legislation, bringing the ACT into line with UN standards.
In the Northern Territory, Aboriginal organisations and community leaders and their supporters have been calling for the government to lead the way in raising the age, a change that would be transformative for Aboriginal children and young people caught up in the youth justice system.
“We know from medical experts that children at this age are too young to fully understand the criminal nature of their behaviour. Children’s brains are still developing,” says CAYJ Chairperson Kirsten Wilson.
“At this age and often well into adolescence, children are more likely to take risks and act impulsively, less able to regulate their emotions, and more susceptible to peer and environmental influences – all of which can lead to trouble with police.
“Most offending at this age is low-level, and with the right supports and guidance, children can and do grow out of offending. Criminalising children’s behaviour traps them in a harmful system that perpetuates a cycle of disadvantage and offending.
“Raising that age of criminal responsibility acknowledges that we need age-appropriate responses that actually address the reasons why a child has come into contact with police in the first place, including their housing situation, food security, health needs, school engagement and any mental or physical impairments,” Ms Wilson says.
Raising the age of criminal responsibility was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.
The NT Government supported this recommendation and has committed to raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years by 2021, however this still falls short of international human rights standards. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on countries to raise the age to at least 14 years old.
“The Northern Territory has the opportunity to join the ACT and be a national leader. Raising the age from 10 to 14 years must be a priority for the incoming NT Government.”
“Rather than criminalising kids, we need to be stepping in at the first signs of trouble and resourcing Aboriginal organisations and communities to implement their solutions for their kids. Connection to family, culture and country are the most important protective factors that will give kids the chance to be healthy, safe and happy.”
Source: CAYJ media release