Australia has faced international pressure at the UN’s human rights council to improve its standing on human rights issues, with more than 30 countries calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be raised.
The pressure came as part of the UN’s universal periodic review of human rights, which happens every five years. The review puts Australia’s record on human rights under the spotlight and gives the opportunity for other countries to ask questions and provide recommendations. The last time Australia came under the UN’s spotlight on human rights was in 2015.
At the UN review, 31 countries including Canada, Greece, Germany, Iceland, France, Finland, Estonia, Italy, Sweden, Poland, Spain and Mexico called on Australian authorities to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14.
Currently, children as young as 10 can be held criminally responsible for their actions in Australia, a standard that is out of step with expert advice and much of the international community. Australia’s young age of criminal responsibility has a disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, who have high rates of incarceration.
“Australia locks up vulnerable children as young as 10, taking away childhoods and causing them serious harm at a crucial time of development, when they are being shaped into the adults they will become,” Nolan Hunter, Indigenous Rights Lead at Amnesty International Australia said ahead of the review.
“The UN has benchmarked 14 as the absolute minimum age of criminal responsibility. Experts in child development and health from around the world agree that we must act on this now.”
Other human rights issues that were raised at the review include Australia’s record on systemic discrimination and over incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, immigration detention and offshore processing of asylum seekers, the need for greater action on climate change to protect human rights and safeguards to protect journalists and whistle-blowers.
The Australian Human Rights Commission submitted a report prior to the UN review, which recommended the implementation of measures to improve gender equality in Australia. The recommendations included: closing the gender pay gap, ensuring women’s economic security, prevention and intervention on family and domestic violence, addressing workplace sexual harassment, affordable access to childcare and equal investment in job creation for men and women.
Tina Dixson, the Acting Program Manager at the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance said there has been no appreciable drop in levels of gendered violence in Australia in recent years.
“Australia is rightly proud that it broke new ground by implementing the first National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Their Children in 2010. However, there has been no appreciable drop in the levels of gendered violence in Australia,” she said.
“With increased visibility and reporting of violence, Australia must learn from the experience of the 2010 Plan and ensure that the second National Plan includes adequate funding for specialist women’s services, specific measures to address violence against women of diverse experiences, and a monitoring and evaluation system for all action plans.
“It’s also essential that there is a specific focus on violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls.”