Why is raising the criminal age of responsibility to 12 still not enough?

 

On Friday 12th November, 2021 Australia’s Attorney’s-General supported developing a proposal to raise the age of criminal responsibility from the age of 10 to 12 years old. This is not a decision to raise the age to 12, this is simply a statement of support for “developing a proposal”.

MYAN is a part of a coalition of over 100 organisations – all committed to seeing no child under 14 years old put into a prison cell. We call on the Attorneys-General to listen to the expert national and international legal and health advice and community feedback and introduce legislation to raise the age to at least 14 years old.

Many 12 year olds are still in primary school. 13 year olds are starting their first year of high school. These formative years can set a child on a trajectory for the rest of their lives.

  • Very young children are still developing – mentally, physically and emotionally. When a child is under the age of 14, they haven’t yet developed the capacity to assess risk, predict consequences or control their impulses. They are simply too young.
    • Very young children are also more vulnerable to harm. Because their brains are still developing, the criminal legal system is more likely to cause them lifelong developmental and mental health trauma. Instead of helping a child, this means they are less likely to finish school or get a job, and makes it more likely that they will die prematurely. 
    • First Nations organisations, health, legal and human rights experts have been calling for years for governments to raise the age to at least 14 years old-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children are disproportionately impacted by these laws.
  • If governments only raise the age to 12 years old, then 456 out of the 499 children aged under 14 in prison last year would remain locked away behind bars.

It is extremely rare that children under the age of 14 years old are arrested and charged with serious or violent offending. When they are, it is because something has gone seriously wrong in that child’s life. As with any child under 14 years, but perhaps even more so with a child who has additional vulnerabilities and trauma, prison is a harmful not helpful response to unlawful behaviour. When a child does something seriously wrong, they will often need interventions and support. These can be delivered through a range of non-criminal avenues such as wrap around family support, mental health interventions, support from a case worker or on country programs.

The evidence is clear: child prisons are always harmful, but 14 years old is the absolute youngest age a child should ever be subjected to the criminal legal system. We will continue to work with our communities, and call on politicians, to raise the age to at least 14 years old and support all children to grow and thrive across Australia.

 

Visit the Raise The Age website to see how you can support the campaign individually or as an organisation.