23rd November 2017


The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia Limited (ALSWA) joins the call to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years.  Without this change, ALSWA says that young, vulnerable, Aboriginal children will remain enmeshed in the criminal justice system, with a bleak future ahead of them.

Responding to the findings of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, ALSWA CEO Dennis Eggington said that the spiralling numbers of children in court and detention was both troubling and tragic.

“Here in WA, Aboriginal children are constantly challenged and targeted by authority and if that leads to early contact with the justice system, it will almost certainly cause permanent harm not just to that child, but also the wider community. It is just wrong to hold immature and vulnerable young children to the same standards of criminal responsibility as adults” said Mr Eggington.

ALSWA said that the current statistics of young people in the criminal justice system should act as an urgent wake-up call that the current system is failing our children.

  • 599 children under 14 were placed in detention during. 67% were Aboriginal;
  • 878 children under 14 were placed on community-supervision orders. 67% (589) were Aboriginal;
  • Nationally, Aboriginal children aged 10-12 made up 73% of those placed in detention and 74% placed on community-based supervision.

(Cunneen, C. (2017) Arguments for Raising the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility, Research Report, Comparative Youth Penalty Project, University of New South Wales, Sydney. Available at ).

“I want to live in a society which cares for people and protects the rights of our children.  Locking up children under the age of fourteen is simply outrageous. The evidence is clear – the outcomes are much better for children, their families and the wider community if resources and effort is focussed on keeping them out of the justice system rather than locking them up. If that can’t be the main priority of government, then we will be failing those who most need help” said Mr Eggington.

In its 2012 concluding observations on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in Australia, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child expressed concerns about the serious and widespread discrimination faced by Indigenous children and recommended that the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be increased to at least 12 years.

Other Jurisdictions

The minimum age of criminal responsibility varies greatly across the world and the criminal/penal codes of many countries prescribe higher minimum ages of criminal responsibility than Australia:

  • 12 years – Canada, Greece, Netherlands, Ireland (except murder/manslaughter, sexual assault where it’s 10 years;
  • 13 years – France, Israel, New Zealand (except for murder/manslaughter where it’s 10 years);
  • 14 years – China, Austria, Germany, Chile, Italy and many Eastern European countries;
  • 15 years – Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Sweden;
  • 16 years – Japan, Portugal, Spain, Argentina;
  • 18 years – Belgium, Luxembourg, Brazil.