'Too young, too soon': we support calls to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12

'Too young, too soon': we support calls to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12

Monday, 26 October 2015

We have joined a coalition of agencies, led by Jesuit Social Services, who are calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be lifted to 12.

The United Nations has ruled that 12 is the absolute minimum age at which children should be held criminally responsible.

Currently in Victoria as well as other Australian jurisdictions, children as young as 10 are deemed to be responsible for committing criminal offences.

In 2014, 360 Victorian children aged 10 or 11 were charged with criminal offences, according to a research paper prepared by Jesuit Social Services and presented this week to all Australian attorneys-general.

Youth Crime Program Manager Laura Chipp said, ‘Children of this age lack the intellectual and emotional capacity to form criminal intent and find it difficult to understand the consequences of their actions.\

‘Rather than prosecuting and criminalising primary school-aged children who present with antisocial behaviour, we believe the focus should be on early intervention and support.'

Laura Chipp

‘Treating this behaviour as criminal is likely to be damaging and stigmatising well into the future.’

Laura said that early contact with the justice system has been shown to be a risk factor for a long-term pattern of repeated legal problems, criminal behaviour and entrenched disadvantage.

‘The reasons that children offend at such a young age are usually because they have already been exposed to neglect, abuse and trauma.

‘Linking children to social and welfare supports and dealing with the underlying causes of the offending therapeutically, not punitively, makes much more sense.

‘Time and resources, at the earliest possible stage, can help deal with the root causes, such as family issues including homelessness or violence in the home. Early intervention can also help a child to understand their offending or identify why they may have started abusing drugs or alcohol.

‘Diverting children away from the criminal system has been shown to be effective in giving them every chance to “grow out of” their offending in the long-term,’ she said.

More information

Read the Jesuit Social Services report Too young, too soon.

Read our research report: High contact users of legal aid users which confirmed a link between early criminal offending and contact with the justice system, and later high legal needs.


If you have a media enquiry please contact Kerrie Soraghan, Communications Co-ordinator on (03) 9269 0660 or 0422 966 513.

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