Human rights groups and Indigenous advocates have criticized thefor ignoring international pressure to raise the age of criminal responsibility. Australia fronted the Human Rights Council in Geneva Thursday evening as part of the Universal Period Review, which occurs every five years, thrusting its human rights record under the global spotlight.
Currently, children in Australia can be held criminally responsible from the age of 10.
More than 30 member nations supported a key recommendation from an initial UN hearing in January to raise the minimum age to 14. Before the committee, Australia’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Sally Mansfield, did not formally accept the recommendation, saying responsibility lies with states and territories.
“Responsibility for criminal justice is shared between the federal, state, and territory governments who are engaged in a process to consider this question, with some having announced an intention to raise the age within their respective jurisdictions,” she said. Ultimately it will be a decision for each jurisdiction whether to raise the age of criminal responsibility.”
‘A huge missed opportunity.’
The response has drawn swift criticism from rights groupsreform.
The ACT has passed legislation to raise the age to 14, while an NSW Parliamentary inquiry supports a similar rise.
“We expect the [ACT] laws to be introducedor early next year, but that needs to happen in every single state and territory, and it needs to happen at the national level,” Human Rights Law Centre executive director Hugh de Kretser told SBS News.
He said the government’s response is a “huge missed opportunity”.
“Today was a chance for theto lead on that issue. It’s a huge missed opportunity and highlights how out of step standards,” he said.
Simon Henderson, head of policy at Save the Children Australia, said the UN Committee on Child’s Rights has been pressuring Australia to raise the age for over 15 years.
“Frankly, it was shameful,” he told SBS News.
“It’s important to acknowledge that the call to raise the age – both inand internationally – has been taking place for many years. FOR EXAMPLE, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child called upon Australia to raise the age in 2005, 2012, and 2019.” Mr. Henderson, who spoke at the hearing via video link, told the committee the laws disproportionally impact .
According to Save the Children, around 65 percent of incarcerated children aged between 10 and 13 in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. Priscilla Atkins, Co-Chair at NATSILS, the national peak body of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, described Australia’s response as “appalling”. “Five the last Universal Periodic Review, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people remain the most incarcerated people on earth, with a horrifying number of our young people trapped in the quicksand of the so-called justice system,” she told SBS News.