The democratically-elected Aboriginal body responsible for negotiating a treaty with the Victorian state government has called for the age of criminal responsibility to rise from 10 to 14 years of age in the Australian state.
First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria co-chairs Marcus Stewart, and Geraldine Atkinson wrote an open letter to the Victorian attorney-general calling for the change in legislation to come before a treaty.
“This does not need to, nor should it, wait for Treaty. It is a much needed, sensible, compassionate, evidence-based and simple reform that community overwhelmingly supports,” the letter stated (pdf).
Stewart and Atkinson said children younger than 14 years old could not fully understand the risks and consequences of their actions and called for the justice system to acknowledge that.
“[Ten] year old kids should be able to share Christmas with their families at home. We’re sick of seeing our kids ripped away from their communities, only to be thrown into the quicksand of the criminal justice system,” Stewart, a Nira illim bulluk man, said in a release on Tuesday.
He called on the state government to “stop targeting and locking up” Indigenous kids.
“Raising the age of legal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 is something that can happen right now, the Government mustn’t hide behind its commitment to the Treaty process and use it as an excuse to stall reform, which would have a real impact on Aboriginal kids and their families and communities,” Stewart said.
Atkinson, a Bangerang and Wiradjuri elder, said that raising the age of criminal responsibility was strongly supported by First Peoples communities.
“The Victorian government is leading the nation in listening to the voices of First Peoples. They need to continue to listen to us; we’re the experts on our own lives and communities,” Geraldine said.
Locking up our kids helps nobody, it just piles on further harm and trauma. Incarcerating primary school-aged kids is just wrong.”
The assembly recently marked its second anniversary, after being established in 2019 with elected representatives from Aboriginal communities and traditional owner groups in Victoria.