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  • Sofia Jayne

Explainer: Minimum sentencing age and Indigenous youth

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

Experts say the Australian minimum sentencing age fails young Indigenous Australians.

“Don’t let them take me.” A young child who held tightly onto their father’s leg as a group of police waited for them outside their house in Darwin.

These words come from one of the many stories shared by Aboriginal children during the 2017 Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. Of the 430 youths who have come forward to give personal accounts of their experiences within the justice system, many described being subject to physical violence and enduring significant trauma.

The commission was announced by Former Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull, hours after the ABC’s Four Corners program aired footage of the conditions Aboriginal Australian children were living in at Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. The 2016 program ‘Australia’s Shame’ revealed the infamous image of adolescent Dylan Voller being shackled to a chair with a spit hood over his head, after he threatened to harm himself.

Data shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children continue to be incarcerated at much higher rates. In 2020 only six percent of Australians aged 10-17 were Indigenous. But Indigenous children were 17 times more likely to end up in detention compared to non-Indigenous children.

Given the ages of many kids at the time of their experiences, the Commission has raised significant questions about the impact of the age of criminal responsibility in Australia, and particularly on Indigenous children.

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