Medical experts want the age of criminal responsibility to be raised to 14.

Currently, children aged 10 or over can be charged, prosecuted, and imprisoned, but the Australian Medical Association (AMA) says vulnerable children are being unnecessarily criminalised.

Around 600 children below the age of 14 are locked away in youth jails each year, with Aboriginal and Islander children constituting 70 per cent of this cohort.

“Australia has one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world,” says AMA President, Dr Tony Bartone.

“The criminalisation of children in Australia is a nationwide problem that disproportionately impacts Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children.

“Most children in prison come from backgrounds that are disadvantaged. These children often experience violence, abuse, disability, homelessness, and drug or alcohol misuse.

“Criminalising the behaviour of young and vulnerable children creates a vicious cycle of disadvantage. and forces children to become entrenched in the criminal justice system.

“Children who are forced into contact with the criminal justice system at a young age are also less likely to complete their education or find employment, and are more likely to die an early death.

“The AMA wants the Commonwealth and State and Territory Governments to support developmentally and culturally appropriate health, education, and rehabilitative-based alternatives to the criminal justice system,” Dr Bartone said.

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has consistently said that countries should be working towards a minimum age of 14 years or older.

The Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous peoples urged Australia to increase the age of criminal responsibility, saying that children “should be detained only as a last resort, which is not the case today for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children”.

Australia has been repeatedly criticised by the United Nations, most recently by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, for failing to reform the current minimum age.

Raising of the age of criminal responsibility is also supported by The Royal Australian College of Physicians (RACP), the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA), The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, the Lowitja Institute, the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), Amnesty International, and UNICEF.