Queensland leads the country in locking up 10- and 11-year old children, but the incarceration of primary school aged children is a national shame that must cease immediately by raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12, says Jesuit Social Services.

“A new report by Amnesty International Australia has highlighted a number of serious concerns with Queensland’s youth detention system, including an over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and the country’s highest rate of holding children on remand,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“Not long after ABC’s Four Corners revealed widespread abuse and brutalization of children in the Northern Territory’s youth detention system, this is further evidence that Australia is failing to support and protect vulnerable children and young people.”

In late 2015, Jesuit Social Services sent an open letter to Australia’s Attorneys-General, urging them to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 in line with United Nations recommendations.

The letter was signed by dozens of human rights, legal and community service organisations including Amnesty International, Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS), Oxfam Australia and Victoria Legal Aid.

“Evidence about children’s brain development shows us that children under 12 lack the capabilities for full criminal responsibility, and Australia’s age of criminal responsibility of 10 lags behind countries including Canada, Japan and Germany,” says Ms Edwards.

“We know that the most effective way to work with vulnerable children is to support them to address the serious disadvantage behind their offending behaviour – not to further victimize and punish them.

Jesuit Social Services has also called on the Federal Government to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) agreement which would strengthen oversight measures in youth detention facilities.

“The establishment of the Royal Commission into the Child Protection and Youth Detention Systems of the Northern Territory has placed Australia’s national shame in the international spotlight and we hope it will lead to significant systemic reform to improve outcomes for vulnerable children.

“But what today’s report has shown is that these problems are not isolated to the Northern Territory. Prison is no place for primary school aged children and if we are serious about creating safer communities we must raise the age of criminal responsibility and support, not punish, vulnerable children.”

Media enquiries – Kathryn Kernohan, 0409 901 248 or kathryn.kernohan@jss.org.au

Download this media release as a PDF.