Youth justice advocates have criticised the Morrison Government after it told the United Nations that the duty of raising the age of criminal responsibility lies with State and Territory Governments.
Currently, children as young as 10-years-old can be held criminally responsible and face incarceration in Australia. This is four years below the UN’s recommended age of 14.
In January, 31 member states of the UN urged Australia to raise the age.
Australia faced the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva on Thursday evening as part of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
Australia’s Permanent Representative to the UN Sally Mansfield fronted the committee, saying the nation did not accept the recommendation.
“Responsibility for criminal justice is shared between the Federal, State and Territory Governments who are engaged in a process to consider this question, with some having announced an intention to raise the age within their respective jurisdictions,” she said.
“Ultimately it will be a decision for each jurisdiction whether to raise the age of criminal responsibility.”
Advocacy groups have criticised the federal government for their response at the UN.
“The move to raise the age is long overdue. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has been pressuring Australia to raise the age for over 15 years and it is time to take action,” said Head of Policy at Save the Children Simon Henderson.
“Australia’s record on youth justice and excessive incarceration of young Indigenous Australians is a shame for our country.”
In May, 48 organisations publicly published their submissions to the Council of Attorneys-General working group on raising the age of criminal responsibility.
Youth Law Australia (YLA) was included in those who released their submission and have been calling for a rise in the age for over 15 years.
YLA Director Matthew Keeley said the organisation is “disappointed in the Australian Government, indeed successive governments, for failing to deliver strong leadership to the states and territories on this issue”.
“There is ample evidence to support raising the age of criminal responsibility and the application of alternative approaches. The failure of the Australian, state and territory governments that have not committed to raising the age is really just a failure of political will,” said Keeley.
“How can it be anything else, when other countries have minimum ages of 14, 15 and even 16?”
Keeley said the organisation is particularly concerned about the impacts on First Nations peoples and children.
“We are deeply concerned about the government-sponsored abuses and violations of rights that are visited, in particular, upon First Nations children and their families through maintaining such a low age of criminal responsibility,” he said.
According to Save the Children, currently 65 per cent of incarcerated children between the age of 10 and 13 are Indigenous.
Palawa man and Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Advisor Rodney Dillon said the government “should be leaders, they should stand up and take responsibility”.
“The Government is quite happy making an industry out of this. When you have companies that are building prisons to make a profit, it becomes an industry,” he said.
Dillon said that the Government cannot say they are committed to “Closing the Gap, when they have 10-year-old kids locked up in prison” and hopes they “listen to the international community”.
“It is an international embarrassment … This is a cruel country … our people have been treated badly and they still are,” he said.
“This deed of locking up 10-year-old kids, the [Australian Government] will go down in history as the most angry and aggressive people towards our people there is.”
By Rachael Knowles