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(Australian Associated Press)
Dozens of legal, health and community organisations have again called on all levels of Australian government to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years.
The Australian Medical Association and the Australian Lawyers Alliance were among 76 groups that say urgent reform is needed for the almost 600 children under 14 locked up in Australian prisons each year.
The groups on Wednesday publicly released 48 submissions handed to the Council of Attorneys-General more than a year ago which they said provided extensive evidence that change is necessary for the physical and psychological health of the children.
“If our governments are serious about Closing the Gap targets, there’s no more simple legislative reform,” Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights campaigner Nolan Hunter said.
“The attorneys-general have kicked the can down the road long enough.”
Currently, children as young as ten can be arrested, strip-searched and locked in prison cells throughout Australia.
The groups say this is out of step with medical evidence, human rights law and international standards, with the median age of criminal responsibility worldwide being 14.
They’ve accused federal and state attorneys-general of two-and-a-half years of inaction and delay, saying they have failed to progress the matter despite numerous commitments to do so.
“They said they need more research-based evidence to raise the age, but the evidence is crystal clear,” Human Rights Law Centre legal director Meena Singh said.
‘Locking up children as young as 10 does not make the community any safer.
“Instead, it further entrenches those children in the criminal legal system and proves that governments have failed to provide culturally safe supports instead.”
All 48 submissions called for the minimum age to be raised nationally from 10 to 14.
More than 90 per cent say Australia’s current minimum age of criminal responsibility – 10 in all states and territories – is breaching international human rights law or international standards,
While 96 per cent say the current laws are contributing to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in prison.
“Of serious concern is the disproportionate effects and incarceration rates of Indigenous youths, accounting for around 65 per cent of children in prisons aged 13 years or younger,” paediatrician and adolescent health specialist Mick Creati said.
A 2018 study of 99 children in detention in Western Australia found that 89 per cent had at least one severe neurodevelopmental impairment, according to the Royal Australasian College of Physicians.
“Putting these vulnerable children through the justice system for behaviour explained by their immature development and disability … further damages some of the most traumatised children in Australia,” Dr Creati said.