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Renewed push to lift criminal age in SA after UN grilling

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South Australia’s youth justice watchdog has called on the State Government to immediately lift the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years, after Australia was questioned on the matter by the United Nation’s human rights council.

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Youth Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright said raising the age of criminal responsibility would reduce the “extreme rates” of incarceration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, some of whom she said are only detained on remand and might never be found guilty of an offence.

But Attorney-General Vickie Chapman has reiterated her stance that South Australia will not lift the criminal age until a national consensus on the matter has been reached.

It comes as Australia this week faced questions from the United Nation’s human rights council over its treatment of Indigenous communities, asylum seekers and violence against women.

The review occurs every four to five years, with Australia last under the spotlight in late 2015.

More than 30 countries, including Canada, Germany, France, Italy, Greece and Mexico, used this week’s session to call on Australia to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.

They questioned why Australia delayed a push to raise the age, after the country’s attorneys-general last year deferred a decision because they wanted more information on how young children who exhibit offending behaviour would be managed outside the criminal justice system.

Wright said deferring the decision was a “failure to act on vulnerable children and young people”.

“UN Members have rightly questioned Australia’s failure to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years and highlighted the extreme rates of incarceration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” she said.

“Unfortunately, some detainees are very young and many are Aboriginal, and in the care of the state.”

InDaily reported in November that South Australian primary school-aged children – some as young as 10-years-old – were incarcerated 133 times over the past year.

Most 10 to 13-year-old children detained during the 2019-20 financial year were Aboriginal, had disabilities and/or were cared for under the guardianship of the Child Protection Department.

The SA Greens have a Bill currently before state parliament to lift minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14.

But Chapman has previously told InDaily that “further work” was required before South Australia committed to raising the age.

“As I have stated from the start, I am of the mind that the age of criminal responsibility needs to be uniform across the entire country,” she told InDaily in July after a meeting of attorneys-general

“There has been no finalised report received regarding the age of criminal responsibility.”

A spokesperson for Chapman this morning referred InDaily to the Attorney-General’s previous comments.

– with AAP

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