Australia’s attorney-general made the move to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12, despite justice advocates calling for the age to be raised to 14, in line with international standards.

On Friday at the Meeting of Attorneys General (MAG), it was decided to develop “a proposal to increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12”.

First Nations-led justice coalition, Change the Record have described the decision as one that “does nothing to improve the lives of children and nothing to close the gap”.

“The medical evidence is clear: governments should raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old as a bare minimum,” said Change the Record Co-Chair Cheryl Axleby.

“Last year almost 500 children under the age of 14 languished behind bars, disproportionately Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“This proposed reform would do nothing to help those children – it just kicks the can further down the road.”

In Australia, most 12-year-olds are in their final year of primary school, with many stepping into high school at the age of 13-years.

“These children need our love and support to learn from their mistakes, grow and thrive. No child belongs behind prison bars,” said Axleby.

“If Covid has taught governments anything, it’s that you can’t pick and choose what medical advice you follow. The doctor’s orders are clear: raise the age to at least 14 years old.”

Axleby notes that despite the Attorneys General committing to “explore options to raise the age” over three years ago, “they have done nothing since then”.

In 2020, almost 500 children between the ages of 10 and 13 were imprisoned, with 91 per cent over 12-years-old.

Currently, 43 per cent of children in New South Wales juvenile detention are Aboriginal.

Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe described the MAG announcement as a “deliberate disregard of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, medical evidence and First Nations advocates”.

“This amounts to nothing more than smoke and mirrors from the Morrison Government. It’s a complete and total sham by the MAG,” said the Senator.

“Aggressive policing, coupled with racist laws and policies like the refusal to raise the age to at least 14, is deliberately targeting First Nations children who account for a staggering 65 per cent of children who are jailed in this country. Often for low level, non-violent offending,” said Senator Thorpe.

“Having such a low age of legal responsibility is impacting First Nations children the most. Separating children from their families, communities, education, and culture is causing lasting damage.”

The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (ALS) share the sentiment of Change the Record. The legal service rejects the “empty commitment”.

“This is a fig-leaf announcement designed to take pressure off politicians and give the appearance of action, without the substance,” said Nadine Miles, Acting CEO of the ALS.

“Aboriginal communities and organisations have been crystal clear that we expect the age of responsibility to be raised to 14 at the very least.

“The traumatic and life-altering effects of juvenile detention on Aboriginal children are vastly disproportionate. The NSW Government and Attorney-General have promised to close the gap in partnership with Aboriginal communities, and they owe it to these communities to listen and act.”

Currently, only the ACT has taken action to raise the age to 14-years. Last week, NSW followed behind with The Greens introducing legislation. The ALS is urging NSW parliamentarians to back that bill.

By Rachael Knowles