A Light on the Hill

Raising the Age of Criminal Responsibility to 14 years old

On November 14th 2022 Brougham Place Uniting Church’s Social Justice and Action Group (SJAG) discussed the need to raise the age of criminal responsibility in South Australia to 14 years old.

This discussion followed the release of the Training Centre Visitor’s Report for 2021 – 22 on November 3rd 2022 which was reported in the Sunday Mail on November 6th 2022. 

Shona Reid as the Visitor highlighted the fact that “52 children aged 11 – 13 were detained in the Youth Detention Centre in the past year (representing 17.8% of the children admitted to the Training Centre)”.

It was noted that this figure had increased by 9 which was a 20.9%rise from the previous reporting period.

The recidivism of these children was listed in the Sunday Mail as “Those Children returned to custody and average of 3.4 times – “a significant increase” from the previous year’s average of 2.3 times, Ms Reid said.”

What we know is that the more we lock people up and the longer that they stay there, the more likely they are to return to detention. 

In South Australia, the Attorney General, Hon Kyam Maher MLC is considering the potential of raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years old. In fact all Attorneys General across the country are being asked to look at their legislation regarding the age of criminal responsibility. 

Amnesty International in Australia has campaigned over the past 5 years to Raise the Age. They have highlighted that Australia has been criticised by the United Nations for its practices of locking up 10 year olds. 

The age of criminal responsibility is the age in which a child is considered by law to have understood that their actions were wrong and can face criminal charges. All Australian states and territories have this age set at only 10 years old. This means that across Australia, police have the power to arrest, strip-search and imprison children who are only 10 – that’s typically a child in year 3 or 4 at primary school.

Australia has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world – the global average is 14 years old. We have been repeatedly criticised by the United Nations, most recently by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, for failing to reform the current minimum age.

In 2021 on the 30th year of the release of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the following statement was made by the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) at the national level by Pastor Mark Kickett who at that time was the Interim UAICC National Chairperson.

Thirty years ago, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody provided a blueprint for preventing deaths in custody and reducing the incarceration rate of First Peoples. It’s now a generation later and governments at all levels have failed to act,

At that time, the then President of the Uniting Church in Australia Dr Deidre Palmer supported Pastor Kickett’s statement by adding 

Raising the age of criminal responsibility nationally is one action that Australian governments can take right now that will have an immediate – and generational – impact to reduce the over-incarceration and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children a brighter future,

The imperative for this and the impact upon Aboriginal children is laid out in the Amnesty International campaign as follows: – 

Indigenous children are the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in the criminal justice system, they are disproportionately impacted and make up the vast majority of imprisoned children.

Indigenous children are locked up at 17 times the rate of non-Indigenous children, despite making up just 6% of the Australian population aged 10-17. Of all children under 14 imprisoned between 2017-2021, 65% were Indigenous and 68% hadn’t even been convicted of any crime.

More details of the Amnesty information can be seen on their website.

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