The age of criminal responsibility in Australia should be lifted from 10 to at least 12 years in line with international standards, a United Nations report has recommended.
In a report to the UN’s Human Rights Council, Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz said criminal responsibility at the age of 10 was a “deeply troubling” situation and “below international standards”.
Ms Tauli-Corpuz’s recommendation to lift the age of responsibility in Australia was one of more than 40 wide-ranging suggestions that are expected to come under scrutiny at a meeting of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva this week.
Nigena woman and human rights lawyer Tammy Solonec will address the council on behalf of Amnesty International.
Ms Solonec told NIT from Geneva she would show the council some of the shocking footage that has emerged from the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in the Northern Territory. Images of youths being tear-gassed and hooded were widely condemned when they came to light via ABC’s Four Corners program last year.
Meanwhile, Ms Tauli-Corpuz said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were 24 times more likely to be detained than other children in Australia.
“In some detention facilities, such as in the Northern Territory and in the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Queensland, Indigenous children constitute an astonishing 90 per cent of the detainees, which prima facie raises concerns over racial discrimination in the administration of justice,” her report states.
Ms Tauli-Corpuz said children were being placed in high-security facilities because Australia had failed to find alternatives to detention.
“The facility (in Cleveland) is strictly regulated and run based on punitive measures for misdemeanours as minor as overstaying in the pool in the facility,” the report states.
It claims sources, including judges, had told Ms Tauli-Corpuz that in most cases first offences committed by children were minor and not violent.
“In such cases, it is wholly inappropriate to detain children in punitive, rather than rehabilitative, conditions,” the report reads.
The report states the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islanders in Australian jails overall was expected to account for half of the prison population by 2020.
Ms Tauli-Corpuz said the paperless arrests laws in the Northern Territory, which allowed police to detain a person for several hours if they had committed or were suspected to have committed a minor offence, had led to a rise in the number of Indigenous people in police custody.
Tougher bail laws in most states and territories had also led to an increase in the number of Indigenous people on remand.
She recommended the Federal Government urgently adopt a plan to deal with the crisis.
Ms Solonec said she had travelled to Geneva so the world could hear the truth of what happens to Indigenous children in Australia.
“If you ask me as an Aboriginal woman and an Indigenous rights advocate, I would say Australia is not a good global citizen in the way it has treated our children,” she said.
She said the report’s airing comes just weeks before the council votes on whether Australia should be given a temporary seat on it.