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NZ Government fails criminal age review

Saturday 28 January 2023, 1:51PM

By Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand

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This morning, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child called out the failure of the New Zealand Government to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Referring to the current minimum age of criminal responsibility, the Committee stated clearly that the NZ Government is "just not getting children’s rights right".

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is the age at which tamariki (children) can be prosecuted for criminal offending. In Aotearoa New Zealand, this age was set at 10 years old in 1961. In 2019, the UN advised that all State parties should adopt a minimum age of at least 14 years old. Since then, the New Zealand Government has failed to take steps to get in line with this recommendation. Today, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child described the current minimum age of criminal responsibility in Aotearoa New Zealand as an "offence-based approach", not a "child-centred approach", and they asked the Government to advise what steps are being taken to bring the minimum age of criminal responsibility in line with UN standards.

Amnesty International Aotearoa New Zealand is calling on the New Zealand Government to uphold its international human rights commitments and raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 years old.

Campaigns Director Lisa Woods said, "It is completely unacceptable that the Government has dragged its heels on this issue. Today’s review by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is a damning indictment of the political lethargy which continues to put young people at risk of life-long harm.

"What we risk with the current legislation is using the criminal justice system to respond to issues caused by, for example, trauma and a lack of health and mental health support. Instead of solving problems caused by a lack of resources and services, our current laws are funneling children into a system that can trap them for the rest of their lives. This does irrevocable damage to the child, their whānau, and to the rest of society."
 

Growing calls for reform

Aotearoa New Zealand ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1993. The Convention lays out clear recommendations for the country’s youth justice system, among other things. Following New Zealand’s third Universal Periodic Review in January 2019, the Government agreed to consider whether the current minimum age of criminal responsibility should be increased to align with international standards. In 2021, the Government advised that it was monitoring the progress of a working group set up to review the laws in Australia, where many states have set the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 10 years old. But since then, the NZ Government have gone quiet, despite the rising calls for reform.

"Raising the age of criminal responsibility is one of the many changes needed to improve the youth justice system in Aotearoa New Zealand. Ultimately, transformational change is needed across many of the country’s big systems. Raising the age of criminal responsibility is just one of many steps that the Government must take," said Woods.