Australia must cease locking up 10-year-old youngsters. Elevating the age is the precise factor to do | Shane Rattenbury

A child at the age of 10 loses four milk teeth a year, can name the months of the year in sequence and has received a “pen license”.

In Australia, a 10-year-old can also be arrested, remanded, tried by the courts and detained by the police.

On Wednesday, the ACT took another step towards raising the age of criminal consent to 10 years by publishing a discussion paper that will provide the basis for the change and seek community opinion on exactly how this change should work.

We have the decisive and historic opportunity to change the way we deal with vulnerable and marginalized children.

When children commit crimes, it is an anomaly. Something is wrong. Children do not commit crimes because they are bad people. A child who commits a criminal act has arrived at this point primarily through trauma, mental health problems, abuse, neglect, or disability.

Ignoring this history and treating the child’s behavior out of context by the criminal justice system is not a deterrent. Instead, it sets their trajectory towards future crime.

Locking up children is ineffective as a crime preventive measure.

In fact, the strongest predictor of future crime is the “normalization” of crime through early imprisonment.

The ACT government’s commitment to raising the minimum age for criminal liability began with a motion I brought to the congregation to raise the age to 14, followed by an ACT Green election commitment in 2020. It is now in the parliamentary and governing agreement between the Greens and workers.

The commitment to raise old age is a recognition of the insights of stakeholders in areas such as psychology, pediatrics, social work, child protection, mental health, disability, and forensic medicine.

It is also in line with the position of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child.

A change in the law is not enough, however. Before and after there is a lot of work.

Before new laws come into effect, we need to make sure that the right alternative systems are in place. In order to prevent and end harmful behavior, there must still be a system in place to address these causes, even though we recognize that the system cannot be a prison.

We know we need to pay proper attention to protecting the community. We also know that we need to make sure that no child is left without support.

We are already working to identify what restorative and therapeutic services are available to provide this support and accountability, and what gaps need to be filled.

There are some tough questions to investigate, and we know that treating childhood trauma and abuse will not be a quick fix, either individually or at a broader societal level.

We need strong avenues for restorative justice and support for victims’ rights.

We need close coordination between the various support services, the police and the health system.

We have some technical legal challenges to solve, such as dealing with children who were convicted as 10 or 12 year olds and whether historical convictions should be “erased”.

We seek informed answers to these questions and dozens more to ensure the ACT program is successful for the community and their children at risk.

We dare to hope that with our pioneering role we will show that this change is not only possible, but is worth thinking about.

The evidence shows that increasing age is the right thing to do, and we are determined to do it.

The ACT government will address this issue positively and with a clear plan. We hope our experience will pave the way for the rest of Australia.

Shane Rattenbury is ACT Attorney General and Chairman of ACT Greens

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