The Paediatric Society of New Zealand stands behind Amnesty International’s petition to raise the criminal responsibility age in Aotearoa, recognising this as both a matter of justice and equity. Currently, 10 and 11-year-olds can face life sentences, a situation that PSNZ deems deeply concerning and problematic.
Paediatrician and PSNZ President Dr Michael Shepherd says, “We should be helping children learn from their mistakes, not harming them.” He adds, “When children this young are forced through criminal proceedings at such a formative age, they can suffer lasting and immense harm – to their health, wellbeing, and future.”
The Paediatric Society of New Zealand calls on the government to take immediate action by increasing the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 12 as an initial step. Subsequently, we urge the government to raise this age to at least 14 once appropriate changes have been implemented to ensure effective and suitable care for these children.
“We firmly believe that children should be afforded the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and grow in appropriate, supportive, and culturally responsive environments,” states PSNZ Māori Director Wane Wharerau (Ngāpuhi). He adds, “This is also an issue that disproportionately affects Māori and other marginalised communities in Aotearoa, compounding issues of inequity.”
Why Raise the Age?
The UN has said that 14 should be the absolute minimum age of criminal responsibility. Aotearoa is falling behind international standards.
In January 2023, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child described the current minimum age of criminal responsibility in Aotearoa 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.
The Paediatric Society of New Zealand encourages our communities to join them in signing the petition and urging the government to take meaningful action in line with international best practices. Together, we can champion a future where our youth are nurtured, empowered, and given every opportunity to thrive.
For more information, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Ruth Dryfhout, Communications Manager, Paediatric Society of NZ on 021 590 893 or email [email protected]