Next-Gen Indigenous Leader Addresses UN Human Rights Council
Wednesday, 4th July 2018 at 3:21 pm
A rising voice of Indigenous leadership has addressed the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva asking it to pressure Australian state and territory governments to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years.
Indigenous advocate Keenan Mundine first entered juvenile custody aged 14 years. Both his parents died during his troubled childhood in Sydney’s Redfern.
He’s now a principal consultant of Inside Out Aboriginal Justice Consultancy in Sydney, and an activist gaining prominence in the #RaiseTheAge campaign – to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years.
While representing others as young as 10 years who were kept in custody, this week Mundine told his story to the world’s peak human rights body, of which Australia is a member.
“This year alone, around 600 children under the age of 14 will be taken from their families and imprisoned. This injustice must end,” Mundine told the council in his address.
“In joining this council, the Australian government promised to uphold human rights and champion Indigenous peoples’ rights.
“For as long as Indigenous children are 25 times more likely to be sent to prison than non-Indigenous children, these will be hollow promises.”
About 70 per cent of the 600 children taken into custody each year were Indigenous, figures showed.
“I have travelled from across the world to address the UN because I want my two sons to live in a country that treats them fairly.” Time to #RaiseTheAge at which Aus govs can send kids to prison from 10 to 14. @keenan_mundine pic.twitter.com/fOAXmBrOIR
— HumanRightsLawCentre (@rightsagenda) July 3, 2018
Two years after the ABC’s Four Corners program exposed abuse of children in the Don Dale prison, pressure is mounting on Australian state and territory governments to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years.
Australia had one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the democratic world. The median age in Europe was 14 years.
Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, said in addition to raising the age to 14 years, more support was needed for Indigenous-led programs.
“Australian youth prisons are institutional racism in action. Criminalising the behaviour of young, vulnerable children – who are mostly Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander – creates further disadvantage and traps children in the criminal justice system,” Axleby said.
Ruth Barson, a director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, said children should be in classrooms not courtrooms.
“Raising the age is a simple reform that would make a world of difference,” Barson said.
Across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children made up more than 50 per cent of the children locked away in youth prisons, figures showed.
Belinda Lowe, Indigenous rights campaigner at Amnesty International, said the criminal justice system was failing kids and failing communities.
“Children thrive best with their families and in their communities. Let’s instead focus on prevention not detention,” Lowe said.