‘Our children are targeted’: Eggington

Calls are mounting for the age of criminal responsibility across Australia to be lifted from 10 to 14 years.

The push from legal, community and human rights organisations on both sides of the country comes in the wake of the shocking findings by the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT.

Change the Record, a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander organisations has included the change in its new eight-point plan to overhaul the youth justice system.

The Aboriginal Legal Service in WA said locking children up under the age of 14 was “outrageous”.

In September, NIT reported that the United Nations recommended Australia should lift the age it was detaining children from 10 years to at least 12 in line with international standards.

It followed a similar recommendation made in 2012.

In its report handed down this month, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT recommended the NT Government raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12.

It said the Territory’s Youth Justice Act should be amended to include the condition that youths under 14 years not be jailed unless they had been convicted of a serious and violent crime or were a serious risk to the community.

The Aboriginal Legal Service of WA said this week unless the age of criminal responsibility was lifted, Aboriginal children would continue to be caught up in the criminal justice system and face a bleak future.

“Here in WA, Aboriginal children are constantly challenged and targeted by authority and if that leads to early contact with the justice system, it will almost certainly cause permanent harm not just to that child, but also the wider community,” ALSWA chief executive officer Dennis Eggington said.

“It is just wrong to hold immature and vulnerable young children to the same standards of criminal responsibility as adults.”

Change the Record said urgent action was needed.

“The time to act is now. This is an historic opportunity for the Federal Government to make a difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children,” Change the Record co-chair Antoinette Braybrook said.

The coalition’s plan also included taking children who had not been sentenced out of prison, properly funding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled services, ending abusive practices in prisons and supporting children, families and communities.

In another report released this year, University of NSW professor Chris Cuneen said 599 children under 14 were held in Australian juvenile detention centres in the 2015-16 financial year — most in Queensland (152), followed by WA (129) and NSW (121).

Sixty-seven percent were Indigenous.

“The concentration of Indigenous children is even greater when we look at those aged 12 years or younger,” he said in the report.

“Nationally, some 73 per cent of children placed in detention and 74 per cent of children placed on community-based supervision in the 10-12 year old age bracket were Indigenous children during the period 2015-16.”

The NT Government has reportedly given “in principle” support to raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12.

Wendy Caccetta

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