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SACOSS condemns stalling on changing the age of criminal responsibility by the Australian Council of Attorneys-General

The South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) has condemned the further criminalisation of children as a result of a delayed response to change the age of criminal responsibility. In a meeting held on Monday 27 July by the Australian Council of Attorneys-General, the urging to change the age of criminal responsibility from ten years of age to a minimum of 14 years was stalled, with the Council calling for more work to be done.

“Children should not be in jail and certainly no child as young as ten should be treated as a criminal,” said Ross Womersley, SACOSS CEO. “SACOSS is therefore disappointed that the Australian Council of Attorneys-General failed to take the much-needed step to safeguard and protect children from becoming criminalised.

In spite of a long campaign by Change the Record – an Aboriginal-led coalition of legal, human rights and justice organisations – as well as ACOSS and other peak and community organisations across Australia, it is disappointing that there is so little urgency about changing the age and that, as things stand, ten years of age is still deemed an appropriate age for children to be held criminally responsible.

“We are deeply concerned about the incarceration rate of young Aboriginal children,” continued Mr Womersley. “An Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report (2019) on youth justice found that there were almost 600 children aged 10 to 13 in detention in Australia during the last financial year, of which more than 60 per cent were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children.

“This particularly distressing figure will be further enabled by today’s indecisiveness about the need to make immediate change.”

SACOSS draws attention to the fact that a report released last week by the Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People in Care and the Training Centre Visitor:Great Responsibility: Report on the 2019 Pilot Inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centrehighlights that detention centres are no place for young children, who reported bullying and talked about the negative effects of detention on their lives. The key findings of this report about the impacts of detention on young children amply demonstrate the concerns we have about the stance taken by the Council of Attorneys-General today, thereby leaving young children vulnerable to harm and to life-long damage while the Council postpones its decision.

“We know that criminalising any child, and especially children who are under the age of 14, has long-term harmful effects. Involvement in the criminal justice system at a young age can cause further harm and young people aged 10 to 14 in the youth justice system are at risk of becoming chronic, long-term offenders, through exposure to punitive criminal justice environments and the isolation from family and support networks.

“For too long, Australia has lagged behind countries like Sweden, Austria, Germany, Denmark, Finland, Norway, Spain, Hungary, Italy as well as China and Russia who do not incarcerate children younger than 14 years of age,” continued Mr Womersley. “Today’s decision by the Council does little to advance Australia’s standing as a country that safeguards and protects the interests of children and young people and perpetuates an archaic approach that leaves Australia behind so many countries - including those who do not necessarily have a good track record when it comes to the treatment of children.

“All children deserve to be healthy and reach their potential,” concluded Mr Womersley. “A starting point to achieve this is to keep young children out of the justice system and to ensure that they can access the support they need, whether through schools, families or early intervention and preventative initiatives.”


For further information or comment, contact:

Ross Womersley, SACOSS CEO, 0418 805 426

Tania Baxter, SACOSS Communications Coordinator, tania@sacoss.org.au 0432 902 105

Published Date: 
Monday, 27 July 2020