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Urgent message to Attorneys-General: Don't fail children, make it at least 14

MEDIA RELEASE: SACOSS has urged Attorneys-General to raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14, as reports suggest that while the age is being considered, the planned announcement will fall far short.

Attorneys-General are reportedly considering another move towards raising the age of criminal responsibility, with a formal announcement anticipated early in the week.

However, reports suggest that the announcement may fall short of what is required, not amounting to an agreement to raise the age to 14.

Groups across Australia have long been calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to at least 14 years of age. 

Ross Womersley, CEO of the South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS), said: “This indication is not an unequivocal commitment to prevent some of our most vulnerable children from being criminalised and locked up.

"Three years ago, the Attorneys-General undertook to consider a similar ‘proposal’ to explore options to raise the age, but have as yet delivered nothing. All the while, children across Australia continue to be locked away.

"The current response we are hearing about does not even meet the minimum that legal and medical experts such as the Law Council and Australian Medical Association say is necessary: to raise the age to at least 14 years old.

"SACOSS has joined with Change the Record, the network of Councils of Social Service and a wide range of other groups in repeatedly calling for governments across Australia to raise the age of criminal responsibility to a minimum age of at least 14 years.

"SACOSS has also urged Attorneys-General to listen to Aboriginal-controlled organisations and First Nations peoples whose children and families are disproportionately affected by the actions of the criminal justice system. 

“The wellbeing and lives of all our young children must be front and centre in these decisions. Our job as a community is to ensure all children get the best opportunities to thrive," he stated.

If governments across Australia only raise the minimum age to 12 years, then 456 out of the 499 children under 14 in prison last year would remain locked away behind bars.* In South Australia, over 90% of the children who were under 14 and behind bars last year would remain locked away.

"This is not the outcome that decent and compassionate South Australians will accept. SACOSS will not stop campaigning for reform until governments right across Australia raise the minimum age to at least 14 years. We owe it to all our children. It is the very least that we should do,” Mr Womersley stated.

*Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s ‘Youth justice in Australia 2019-20 report’

More information: Raise the Age website