UN pressures governments to stop locking up children
25 September 2019 at 5:14 pm
Community groups are urging the Australian government to raise the age of criminal responsibility after a United Nations committee declared children under 16 should not be sent to prison.
The UN Child Rights Committee recommended that laws be changed to ensure children under 16 are not legally “deprived of their liberty”.
The committee also recommended the age of criminal responsibility be set at 14 years.
In Australia, children as young as 10 can be arrested and sent to prison, and community groups say the Australian government – as a member of the UN Human Rights Council – should follow the recommendations of UN experts.
Cheryl Axleby, co-chair of National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, said the current laws mainly harmed Indigenous kids.
“We are falling further and further behind world standards. If the prime minister is serious about tackling the rates at which Aboriginal kids are being forced into the criminal legal system, then this should be the number one agenda item at the next COAG meeting,” Axleby said.
“It’s such a simple reform, yet it would make a world of difference.”
These recommendations come after 12-year-old Indigenous boy Dujuan Hoosan spoke at the UN Human Rights Council calling for Australia to stop sending 10-year-olds to prison.
Shahleena Musk, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said this updated UN standard showed that Australian governments were hopelessly out of step with international law regarding children’s rights.
“10-year-old kids belong in schools and playgrounds, not in prisons, but Australia’s archaic laws are ripping children from their families, community and culture and throwing them into concrete cells,” Musk said.
“Decent politicians, would raise the age of criminal responsibility.”
In its general comment on children’s rights in the child justice system, the committee noted the negative consequences prison has on children’s wellbeing.
Dr Mick Creati, paediatrician and adolescent physician with the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, said medical evidence showed children under 14 have relatively immature brain development when it comes to decision-making and impulse control.
“We shouldn’t criminalise actions that may be developmentally normal for children of this age and they should not be incarcerated as a consequence,” Dr Creati said.