The Australian Capital Territory’s Legislative Assembly has voted to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14, making it the first Australian jurisdiction to bring its laws in line with United Nations standards.

The motion to raise the age, moved by ACT Greens leader, Shane Rattenbury, was supported by the Greens and the Australian Labor Party.

In Parliament, the Canberra Liberals tried to defer the motion until national agreement on the matter was reached, however the other parties did not support this.

“The ACT will be leading the nation in this important reform, and we now call on other states and territories to follow suit, to support children across the country,” said Rattenbury.

The motion, which was passed last Thursday, said it will become the responsibility of the future government after the October election to legislate the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.

The motion also said medical evidence on the cognitive capacity of children over 14 should be considered and that there should be options to shift the age or provide exemptions for more serious criminal offences.

The current government must now do the preliminary legislative and policy work to prepare the incoming government to raise the age.

Over 20 justice campaigners and community sector organisations, including Canberra’s Aboriginal youth service, Gugan Gulwan, advocated for the ACT Government to raise the age.

Gugan Gulwan Executive Director, Kim Davison, supports the change. She said Aboriginal children are “often carrying effects of intergenerational trauma, which … cannot be addressed nor supported through incarceration”.

“Children need care, love and support so they can reach their full potential. Not handcuffs and prisons,” said Davis.

Amnesty International Australia also welcomed the move, with Justice Campaigner Joel Clark saying it will better ensure vulnerable children aren’t funnelled through custody.

“Keeping Indigenous kids out of the youth justice system … is much more effective in addressing recidivism, and, longer term, overrepresentation in adult prisons,” said Clark.

Justice campaigners and the ACT Greens hope this move will pave the way for other jurisdictions to follow suit.

“This motion in the ACT shows that it’s possible to move on this important justice reform,” said Clark.

“There should be nothing stopping other jurisdictions to follow suit. The longer they wait, the longer little kids are exposed to the harmful conditions of prison.”

Chair of the Central Australian Youth Justice Network, Kirsten Wilson, said this resolution gives the NT the opportunity to join the ACT.

“Raising that age of criminal responsibility acknowledges that we need age-appropriate responses that actually address the reasons why a child has come into contact with police in the first place, including their housing situation, food security, health needs, school engagement and any mental or physical impairments,” Wilson said.

“Raising the age from 10 to 14 [years] must be a priority for the incoming NT Government.”

Raising the age of criminal responsibility was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory.

The NT Government supported this recommendation and has committed to raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years by 2021, however this still falls short of international human rights standards. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child has called on countries to raise the age to at least 14 years old.

By Grace Crivellaro