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Raising the age of legal responsibility must remain on the agenda

With the Council of Attorneys-General deciding not to progress reform on the legal age of responsibility until 2021, the Commission is urging the Victorian Government to continue to take a leadership role on this critical national issue.

29 July 2020

“Children as young as 10 should not be held in youth detention. What we need is a holistic, evidence-based response to these behaviours, rather than a criminal justice one,” says Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner Kristen Hilton.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has consistently stated that countries should work towards a minimum age of 14 years or older. Despite this, Australia still has one of the lowest ages of legal responsibility. This means that children as young as 10 can receive criminal penalties, such as imprisonment.

“Raising Victoria’s age of legal responsibility to at least 14 years of age is also a vital step in reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the justice system and supporting the wellbeing of young people across Victoria,” says Commissioner Hilton.

“Aboriginal children are particularly affected by the low age of legal responsibility as they are more likely to be involved with the youth justice system due to differential treatment and the criminalisation of disadvantage and trauma.”

Our joint report with the Commissioner for Children and Young People, Aboriginal cultural rights in youth justice centres, found that connection to culture, family and country is a protective factor for the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal children.

“We know that Aboriginal children get the best outcomes when the justice system is able to support connections to culture, family and country, rather than relying on criminal penalties such as imprisonment,” says Commissioner Hilton.

“Existing diversionary programs that address the underlying risk factors and prevent re-offending should be strengthened to ensure there is an appropriate response to behaviours currently considered criminal.”

Media contact

Peter Davies
Mobile: 0447 526 642

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