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Joint media release: SA government must raise the age to at least 14

South Australian community services, human rights advocates and First Nations organisations are bitterly disappointed by a proposal by the South Australian Attorney-General, the Hon Kyam Maher MLC, to only raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12,  falling short of the minimum standards for children’s rights set by the United Nations.

Under the proposed changes, 12- and 13-year-old children will continue to experience significant harm and trauma languishing in prisons while the South Australian government continues to criminalise children as young as 10 for certain behaviours, most of which are best understood as responses to trauma. Medical evidence is abundantly clear that children under the age of 14 do not have the capacity for criminal responsibility.

For more than a decade, Change the Record, the Human Rights Law Centre, SACOSS and more than 40 community advocacy organisations in South Australia have been calling for the minimum age to be raised to at least 14, with no exceptions. Nearly 12,000 South Australians signed a petition to raise the age and called for alternatives to be put in place that include trauma-informed therapeutic support services for children and their families. It’s clear that many South Australians support raising the age and are calling on the Government to do the right thing.

We urge the government to raise the age of criminal responsibility to a minimum of 14, with no exceptions, no carve-outs and no delays. Every hour and every day that a child spends in detention is another hour or day of trauma and causes lifelong harm.

Quotes attributable to SACOSS Acting CEO, Dr Rebecca Tooher

While we welcome that the SA government has focused on this important issue and has indicated a willingness to increase the age, we believe that this move does not go nearly far enough.

In terms of the number of children who will be affected by this proposed change – it’s about five children. If the age was to be raised to 14, the lives of about 39 children would be improved. It’s disappointing that the Government hasn’t seen its way to improving the lives of all these children and reducing the harm they’re subjected to.

We also know that Aboriginal children are disproportionately discriminated against and represented in youth detention. This makes it all the more urgent that we collectively work to raise the age and meet the Closing the Gap targets to reduce the incarceration rate and keep children safe at home where they belong, and out of the youth justice system.

Quotes attributable to a Change the Record spokesperson

The Attorney-General’s paper is a missed opportunity to recommend crucial changes to the laws that inhumanely lock up small children and deny them the right to a childhood. The A-G’s proposed changes fall short of minimum standards set by the United Nations and the global average. To say we are disappointed would be an understatement.

Children will continue to experience significant harm and trauma while the South Australian government makes no tangible commitments to raise the age to 14 and continues to criminalise 10 and 11 year olds for certain behaviours.

In South Australia and across Australia, First Nations children and children with disabilities are massively over incarcerated by a harsh, discriminatory and punitive system. All children are entitled to and deserving of care and support, instead the South Australian government is turning their backs on them.

First Nations communities, human rights advocates and legal and health experts have been advocating for this reform for so long. We have evidence-based solutions to give children the right support, at the right time and place. We call on the South Australian government to listen to us. As we have seen in Tasmania, it is possible to implement the full recommendations of the United Nations to raise the age to 14 with no exceptions and no-carve outs. All that is needed is the political will.

Quotes attributed to Monique Hurley, Managing Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre

Children belong in playgrounds and schools, never in prison cells. The minimum age of criminal responsibility for children must be at least 14 years, with no exceptions. But the Malinauskas government's proposed changes would still result in 12 year old children being jailed. We call on the Malinauskas government to commit to raising the age to 14 in this term of government.

Every child should be able to grow up with their friends, family and communities. Every day that the Malinauskas government refuses to raise the age is another day condemning a generation of children to the harm inherent in being locked away behind bars in South Australia.

Published Date: 
Wednesday, 24 January 2024