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Raising the age of criminal responsibility

  • 15 June 2021
I will never forget the day I was told that I was going to become an Aunty. I had just landed back in Australia after a fantastic solo holiday in Thailand. Whilst on the SkyBus, I called my parents to let them know all was well and I was on my way home. I asked dad what I had missed and was told that not one, but two babies were on their way. I just about fell off my bus seat. Several months later, within five weeks of each other my two nephews were born — one tiny, the other plump, and both completely perfect.

Those two little boys turn ten this year, reaching a milestone most Australians celebrate simply as reaching 'double figures'. Yet with these double figures comes a new threat most Australians aren’t aware of: they will also reach the age of criminal responsibility.

Even if most were aware that their ten-year-olds could be taken away and locked up for misdemeanours, it’s not something they would expect to affect their child. For me as an Aboriginal aunty of Aboriginal children, and for most other Aboriginal people, this is a real concern. This concern stems from a history of racist policing and profiling, and from the massive over representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system. We are the most incarcerated people on earth.

Across Australia 65 to 78 per cent of children 10 to 13 years old incarcerated are Aboriginal, yet our kids make up just 5.9 per cent of the childhood population. Of the young children who are imprisoned, 80 per cent will go on to be incarcerated as teens and adults.

As a society, we continue to fail to learn. In 2018 it was noted that 100 per cent of children in juvenile detention in the NT were Indigenous. This is despite the 2016 Royal Commission into the Don Dale Detention Centre after several human rights abuses enacted upon the child detainees were unmasked on a Four Corners report. Despite this Royal Commission, and the various shows of outrage that erupted across the country calling for the closure of Don Dale and the removal of items such as spit hoods, the centre remains open, filled with Aboriginal kids.

Locking vulnerable kids up, rather than supporting them, isn’t making anyone safer. Indeed, it just makes things worse. We know from research key factors leading to kids being imprisoned include poverty,