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Cash urged to #raisetheage

Dozens of organisations have called on Attorney-General Michaelia Cash for an update on the age of criminal responsibility in NSW being raised.

user iconLauren Croft 29 July 2021 Politics
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This week marked a year without action since the Australian government received an expert report overwhelmingly recommending that all states and territories and the federal government change laws to keep children out of prison and raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14.

Currently, children as young as 10 can be arrested, strip-searched and imprisoned. According to 2019 figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, approximately 600 children under the age of 14 across the country are in Australian prisons every year.

In 2019-20 alone, 499 children aged between 10 and 13 were imprisoned, 65 percent of whom are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children. 


Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of Change the Record, said that children imprisoned at such a young age often never recover.

“Every day that the Attorneys-General refuse to act, they are condemning a generation of our children to a lifetime behind bars. Ten-year-old children who get trapped in the criminal justice system don’t come out,” she said.

“One year ago, every state and territory was given the chance to unite to close the gap and change the cruel laws that lock children as young as 10 years old away behind bars. They failed to take action then, we are calling on them to take action now to raise the age of criminal responsibility and invest in the community programs and family services that will keep our children safe and healthy and strong.” 

Forty-seven organisations wrote to Attorney-General Michaelia Cash and the Meeting of Attorneys-General (MAG) Secretariat last month requesting an update on progress to change the outdated laws since the report was presented.

The letter also asked for clarity on the process going forward, including specific time frames, and an update on work carried out to identify “adequate processes and services for children who exhibit offending behaviour”, which was previously outlined by the attorneys-general.

However, no response to the letter has been received to date. This follows almost 50 organisations publicly releasing their submissions to the Council of Attorneys-General in May this year, as well as over 250 recommendations from over 120 countries for Australia to examine and update its laws so that they are in line with international expectations. The median age of criminal responsibility worldwide is 14.

Meena Singh, legal director at the Human Rights Law Centre, called the attorney-generals “complacent” and said the age needed to be raised.

“It beggars belief that the chief law officers in the country could be so complacent when it comes to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility in Australia, which is totally out of step with international human rights law and international standards,” she said.

“The evidence is crystal clear – jailing children under 14 does not make the community any safer, while it greatly increases the risk of that child going on to have contact with the adult legal system in the future.”

The ACT is the only jurisdiction to have committed to raising the age from 10 to 14 years old to date. The Raise The Age coalition is calling on every state and territory to raise the age, and ensure these important reforms are not delayed. 

Priscilla Atkins, chair of NATSILS, added that “this is an unjust and dangerous matter of political will.”

“Ongoing inaction means a horrifying number of our young people continue to be trapped in the quicksand of the so-called justice system,” she said.

“Now is a critical opportunity for the Australian Government to reimagine the justice system and commit to ending the over-incarceration of our children by raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14.”