Locking up children never the answer: time to raise age of criminal responsibility to 14

Some of Australia’s most vulnerable children will remain unprotected if last weekend’s proposal to lift the age of criminal responsibility by only two years (to 12) goes ahead, World Vision says.

World Vision First Nations senior policy advisor Dr Scott Winch said last year, of the 499 children under 14 who were imprisoned, only 43 were under the age of 12. The Meeting of Attorneys General (MAG) proposal announced at the weekend would not have helped most of these children.

Dr Winch said Australia’s lawmakers should at least align with the international call to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14.

With 65 per cent of those 499 children Aboriginal or Torres St Islanders, the issue is urgent for First Nations communities.

World Vision CEO Daniel Wordsworth said locking up young children was never the answer.

“Incarcerated children cannot thrive and reach their full potential,” he said. “Raising the age is a good start, but under this proposal children of 12 can still be locked up. The medical advice is clear – children in Australia’s youth justice system have high rates of trauma and mental health issues.

“Instead of inflicting further damage, let’s listen to First Nations communities and organisations as to the best way forward for these children who need help, protection and the chance for a decent start in life.”

Mr Wordsworth noted that China, Russia, Germany, Spain, Sierra Leone, Azerbaijan, Cambodia and Rwanda have raised the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years old, while Australia has not.

Dr Winch said that instead of jailing children we need to make sure they are nurtured.

“At a time when kids need l ove and care the most, the system harms them,” he said. “In the case of First Nations children, the care they need is embedded in Culture to heal and build resilience.”

World Vision stands for child rights and justice and recognises that nowhere in the developed world are children more in need than in the case of Australia’s First Nations children.

“We are committed to supporting First Nations children so they can thrive,” Dr Winch said.

World Vision Australia is a signatory to the Raise the Age campaign which calls for the age of criminal responsibility be raised to 14. While World Vision Australia does not directly operate programs on juvenile justice, its Young Mob program has operated in juvenile justice centres to support First Nations young people to connect to culture and become strong youth and community leaders. Wherever Young Mob programs operate, they provide a positive pathway for young First Nations people and indirectly reduce engagement with the justice system.

For more information or for interview requests, contact: Mike Bruce 0403 920 189 or mike.bruce@worldvision.com.au

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