act government delays raising the age to 14, defying advice from aboriginal, legal, and human rights organizations
Justice advocates have criticized the ACT Government for not raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 immediately, saying 12- and 13-year-old children cannot wait until 2025.
Today, the ACT Government tabled a Bill to delay raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 to 14 in July 2025 with exceptions.
Medical, legal, and human rights experts have urged governments to raise the age to 14 without exceptions. The ACT warns that children accused of serious crimes will continue to be strip-searched, dragged through courts, and imprisoned.
Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury failed marginalized ACT children by keeping the age of criminal responsibility at 12 until 2025 and failing to protect all children from a harmful system.
Prison destroys kids’ health, development, mental health, and well-being. The earlier a child is imprisoned, the more likely they are to become entrenched in the justice system and re-enter it later in life.
Chief Minister Barr and the ACT Government should fund community-led, evidence-based solutions to keep kids and communities safe instead of locking them up.
Karly Warner, NSW/ACT Aboriginal Legal Service CEO-
“In the rare cases when a child does something seriously wrong, it’s because they’ve been let down and need our help. We have abundant evidence that locking up children harms them, their families, and the community. The ACT Government knows this evidence. Politicians should not sacrifice 12- and 13-year-olds for political gain. The ACT Government is failing Aboriginal children by not raising the age to 14 immediately and without exception. Police, courts, and prisons over-represent Aboriginal children. Indigenous children are imprisoned 12 times more in the ACT. The government’s refusal to fully accept evidence about what works will hurt Aboriginal kids and families the most.
Co-Chair Cheryl Axleby, Change the Record: “While the ACT’s commitment to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility is promising, it is disappointing that yet again our little children must wait. Raising the age to 14 now and adding exceptions for certain offenses is deeply concerning. The ACT’s promise to only raise the age to 12 now risks exposing more children to the criminal justice system. These kids should finish primary school and start high school. They belong with their families, not in prison.”
Amala Ramarathinam, Human Rights Law Centre Acting Managing Lawyer: “Children belong in playgrounds and schools, never in prisons and police cells. ACT’s children, especially those who have suffered poverty, violence, and abuse, are betrayed by the delay in raising the age to 14. Andrew Barr’s staged approach doesn’t help prison children who need therapy. “Serious consideration should be given to amending the Bill,” according to medical evidence and expert advice from Aboriginal, legal, and human rights organizations and the UN. The Barr Government failed ACT children and young people if they set the minimum age at less than 14.
Gemma Killen, Interim CEO, ACT Council of Social Service: “While we welcome the move to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility, this long overdue reform must not be delayed further. We are also deeply concerned that the legislation will include exceptions that allow 12 and 13-year-olds to be charged for certain offenses. According to medical and scientific consensus, detention increases the likelihood of reoffending in children under 14.
“If we agree that children cannot be held responsible for minor offenses, we must agree that they are not criminally responsible for more serious offenses. This decision goes against the United Nations, medical and legal experts, the community sector, and Aboriginal community-controlled organizations who have called for the minimum age of criminal responsibility to be at least 14 with no exceptions.”
Amnesty International Australia Associate Campaigner Kacey Teerman-
“This legislation is a step in the right direction but does not raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 quickly enough. It will greatly impact 10 and 11-year-olds in the ACT criminal justice system, but it won’t help all the other kids in youth detention. As health, legal, advocacy, and community experts, we know that exposing a child to police, prisons, and the criminal system causes irreparable trauma. Governments should invest millions in community-driven programs that work.
Background of the story-
An open letter signed by 126 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, health, legal, youth, community, and human rights organizations in Australia urged Attorney Generals to follow the recommendations of numerous parliamentary inquiries, medical advice, and Aboriginal experts and raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 without exceptions.