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What the F is: the age of criminal responsibility

A quick definition

The age of criminal responsibility is the age a child is deemed, under the law, to have the capacity to understand that their actions were wrong. Subsequently, it is the age that they can face criminal charges. Every state and territory in Australia currently legislates the age of criminal responsibility as ten years of age.


What is the flow on effect of this?

In Australia, children who are only 10 years of age can be:

  • arrested

  • strip-searched

  • imprisoned

Each year in Australia, approximately 600 children under the age of fourteen are imprisoned. In 2020, 80% of 10 year olds imprisoned in Australia were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Australia's current age of criminal responsibility results in the most vulnerable individuals in our community entering a cycle of offending, limiting their opportunity to complete their education and seek employment.


94% of children imprisoned between the ages of 10 and 12 will be imprisoned again before they reach the age of 18.


Looking at these statistics, it is impossible to see how incarceration benefits the wellbeing and long term outcomes of these children, the members of our community that need our protection the most.


Why do we need to raise the age of criminal responsibility?

Research shows that incarcerating children does not deter them from further wrongdoing, it actually creates a vicious cycle of further offending and interaction with the criminal justice system. A 2018 study found that 90% of young people in youth detention in WA had severe impairments in at least one aspect of brain functionality, limiting their ability to comprehend rules and the long term consequences of their decisions. Childhood interaction with the criminal justice system creates, exploits and maintains trauma and vulnerability.


The Northern Territory Royal Commission stated that the majority of kids who are dealt with outside of the formal mechanisms of the justice system and instead go through alternate justice and diversionary processes do not reoffend.


Australia's age of criminal responsibility breaches the United Nations' Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that all nation states should be aiming to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years. For good reason, too. At ten years old, a child cannot create a Facebook account. They also can't vote, leave school or live alone. How can we claim that ten year olds have the capacity to understand the implications of their decisions when we do not trust them to make other long-term choices or act autonomously?


If you believe Australia should #raisetheage, what can you do?


The #raisetheage coalition is comprised of 47 organisations who are pushing for the Attorney-General, Michaelia Cash, to make progress on raising the criminal age of responsibility to 14 in Australia. To sign this petition, visit: https://www.raisetheage.org.au/ .