Across Australia, the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) is ten years old. This means that any child under the age of ten cannot be charged or convicted of a criminal offence.

Between the ages of 10 and 14 a child can be found guilty of an offence if the prosecution can establish that the child committed the offence and knew that the offence was seriously wrong in a criminal sense (as opposed to merely thinking it was naughty).

There is an average of 600 children under the age of 14 serving sentences in youth detention every year. About 70 per cent are Indigenous children.

This statistic prompted a Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children, which recommended raising the age of criminal responsibility to 12. The Commission also recommended that children under 14 should only be jailed for very serious and violent crimes.

Dr Mick Creati, a paediatrician and senior fellow at the Royal Australasian College of Physicians, says children under the age of 14 have poor impulse control and should not be imprisoned for what are developmentally normal actions.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommends 12 as the absolute minimum age for a child to be charged with a criminal offence.

Scandinavian countries including Sweden and Norway have gone above the minimum recommendation with a MACR of 15.

In Brazil, Peru and Uruguay, any person under the age of 18 cannot be charged or convicted of a crime.

This is in stark contrast to countries such as Saudi Arabia and India, which set a MACR of just 7.

Image: Juvenile Justice Information Exchange

Kathryn Cooper

Kathryn Cooper

Criminal Lawyer