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NT's two-year age of criminal responsibility increase "welcomed... but doesn't go far enough"

Giovanni Torre -

The Northern Territory government raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12, coming into effect on 1 August, is a "welcomed step but doesn't go far enough," leading justice advocates say.

Change the Record co-chair Cheryl Axleby, co-chair noted on Tuesday that advice from "the best medical and child psychologists in the country" shows that a child under the age of 14 doesn't have the capacity to understand the consequences of their behaviour.

"This is why we are calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14 at a minimum. 12 is still below the international standards and our obligations to protect children," she told National Indigenous Times.

"Children in the NT and across the country are being subjected to torture - held in prison cells for up to 23 hours day.

"Any time in prision causes significant harm and trauma. Children belong in playgrounds and schools, at home with their families, being loved and supported to learn from their mistakes."

Ms Axleby said there needs to be further investment in prevention, early intervention and diversion programs to address the root causes of a child's behaviour and "give them every opportunity to thrive".

"The NT govt is the first jurisdiction to stop 10 year and 11 year olds from being imprisoned - other states and territories need to act now and do the right thing by raising the age to 14, no exceptions, no carve outs," she said.

Earlier in the week the NT government described the move as part of their plan to break "the cycle of youth crime through early intervention, prevention and diversion".

In a statement issued Monday, the government said the evidence is clear that the earlier a child comes into contact with the justice system, the more prolonged their involvement is likely to be.

"If a child 11 years or under engages in concerning behaviour, they will be dealt with by NT Police and Territory Families through referring the child and their family to the On The Right Track program," the statement said.

The government said the On The Right Track program includes diversion activities, restorative youth justice conferencing, parenting programs and re-engagement with schools, and is supported by 20 staff based in Darwin, Alice Springs, Tennant Creek and Katherine.

"There are a number of operational programs and family support services already in place to assist families and children who require additional support and diversion options," the statement said.

"Since the legislation was introduced in November last year, government agencies and service providers have worked collaboratively to put in place the On The Right Track program for children 11 years and under and their parents when they show signs, they may engage in at risk behaviour."

Minister for Territory Families Kate Worden said that when a child of this age comes to the attention of police, they are "often from a family who needs and wants help – and that's where we are going to focus".

"Victims will always remain at the forefront of every police response and have their needs and support request met. This is about preventing future crime and ensuring there are less future victims," she said.

NT Attorney General and Minister for Justice Chansey Paech said Territorians deserve to feel safe.

"That's why we are focusing on delivering positive, generational change that will benefit our children, their families and the wider community," he said.

"Punitive measures are not a deterrent for 10 and 11 year olds – in fact, they are more likely to increase behavioural problems and offending. It's time to get smarter on our youth justice approach and break the cycle of youth crime".

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