Why we must #RaiseTheAge and keep Australian children safe from prison

Clare Kelly
by Clare Kelly
10 December 2021
Every child should be free to go to school, live in a safe home and learn from their mistakes. But right now, in Australia, children as young as ten years old can be arrested by the police, hauled before the courts and locked away in a prison.

Locking children away in prisons can cause lifelong harm, increase the risk of mental illness, disrupt education, and increase the chance of premature death.

The Human Rights Law Centre along with the United Nations, doctors, public health experts and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders and organisations are calling for Australian governments to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 years.


“Australia should be helping children reach their potential, not locking them up in prison The UN standard sets the absolute minimum age as 14 years. Medical experts are also emphatic - children should be in playgrounds, not prison yards. Change will happen. Our governments know that time is running out and people don’t support playing politics with children’s lives,” said Meena Singh, Senior Advisor, Human Rights Law Centre.

Virgin Unite is proud to support the Human Rights Law Centre as they work in line with self-determination for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and alongside communities across Australia to champion equality, fairness and justice.

The Human Rights Law Centre, together with a coalition of medical experts and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, legal, and human rights organisations have led the #MeAtTen hashtag to help raise awareness that young children - children who are like us, our children and children we know – are being locked away in prison cells.

Most Australians have no idea that 10-year-olds can be locked away in prison – and when they are told, the majority are opposed – believing that governments should raise the age in line with medical advice to at least 14-years-old.

“Australia’s low age of criminal responsibility disproportionately affects Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, who account for almost 65 per cent of ten to 13-year-old children locked behind bars. This over-representation is driven by discriminatory laws and policies and racist policing,” said Ruth Barson, Legal Director, Human Rights Law Centre.

If you would like to take part in the campaign, share a photo of yourself at 10 years old, doing things that typical 10-year-olds do, such as playing, reading, getting ready for school or going to the beach. The campaign will use these to remind Australian decision makers to #RaiseTheAge and keep 10-year-old children at school, with family and in their communities - not behind bars.


Beyond that, we encourage all of you to join us in signing the #RaiseTheAge petition – enabling the campaign to further show policy makers the huge number of people who support raising the age.

Every child deserves the chance to learn from their mistakes in a safe and supported way. The alternatives to prison are already working - they just need to be properly supported.

This Human Rights Week, every donation made to Human Rights Law Centre (up to $130,000) will be matched dollar-for-dollar by their appeal sponsors. So if you can, donate today, and support the HRLC team as they push for urgent human rights progress.