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Doctors, lawyers push to raise age of criminal responsibility

Doctors and Aboriginal legal groups are leading a push to convince all state and territory governments to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old.

Key points:

  • On average about 600 children under the age of 14 serve sentences in youth detention each year
  • The Royal Commission into detention in the NT recommended raising criminal responsibility to 12
  • The UN is also strongly recommending the age of criminal responsibility be raised

On average about 600 children under the age of 14 serve sentences in youth detention each year — 70 per cent are Indigenous children.

The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children recommended raising criminal responsibility to 12 and said children under 14 should only be jailed for serious and violent crimes.

Dr Mick Creati, a senior fellow at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said it was a change that should be implemented Australia-wide.

"We fully support the call from the commission to raise the age of criminal responsibility," Dr Creati said.

"Regardless of the other horrible things we saw in Don Dale, removing children from family, school and positive peer connection is damaging."

Dr Creati, a paediatrician who specialises in adolescent health, said children under the age of 14 had minimal impulse control.

"We're seeing children incarcerated for what we think are developmentally normal actions," he said.

"Now, we know that these actions are sometimes violent, but we don't believe that the response to these actions is to commit these children to the youth justice system, these children need support.

"If they're removed from positive influences and their development is shaped by the youth justice system, that is very damaging to their adult identity."

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child strongly recommends the age of criminal responsibility be raised.

"We know in countries where it has been increased, the rate of recidivism has decreased," Dr Creati said.

National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services co-chairman Wayne Muir said lessons from the royal commission were "applicable to the entire nation".

"You take a kid who is effectively a Grade Four kid and you're putting them in a cell behind barbed wire, the cell is about the size of a carpark space," Mr Muir said.

"We've got to ask ourselves as a society, is that really the way we want to treat 10-year-olds? Surely there's a better way."

At the time of the commission's release, Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion said young people in the youth justice system should not "be dismissed as broken".

Original Article

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