Children and young people

Children and young people are entitled to equality before the law and freedom from discrimination. Young people should be consulted about, and participate in, decisions affecting them. This rarely occurs. Where young people or children come into contact with the criminal justice system, rehabilitative programmes should acknowledge and address their developmental needs and vulnerabilities. The primary aim of any intervention should be to discover the reasons for offending, and to formulate appropriate solutions and supports for the child and their family. Liberty believes that decisions relating to children should be made with the child’s interests paramount. International and domestic research shows that the more a child becomes immersed in the criminal justice system the more likely they are to re-offend. This is not in the best interests of the child or their family, and does not advance community safety. Detention should be a last resort. In addition, children should be consulted about policies that affect them. This is acknowledged in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a signatory, but in practice it rarely occurs. Children are often excluded from having a voice in matters that concern them. Children should be able to live free from neglect and abuse but without undue interference in their lives. Children should have sufficient resources to live on and have universal access to health and education. If parents cannot provide this then the State should adequately provide these supports in line with the UN Convention. Section 23 of the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities recognises the rights of children in the criminal process. It is loosely based on the UN Convention. Section 23 states that an accused child who is detained or a child detained without charge must be segregated from all detained adults; that an accused child must be brought to trial as quickly as possible and that a child who has been convicted of an offence must be treated in a way that is appropriate for his or her age. The Charter recognises only very limited rights in children, and should be read in conjunction with the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 (Vic).