Close to three dozen nations have heavily scrutinised Australia's human rights record.
The disapproval arose as the country sat before the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council for its Universal Periodic Review in Geneva on Jan. 20, with countries like Canada, Sweden, France, China and Norway questioning Australia's treatment of asylum seekers and detention rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.
One of the council's key recommendations is for Canberra to increase the nation's age of criminal responsibility, a long-standing policy that enables children as young as ten to be arrested, kept in custody and imprisoned.
The policy disproportionally affects Indigenous youth.
"While Indigenous Australians comprise 6% of young people aged between 10 and 17, they made up around 57% of those in youth detention," said Andrew Walter, a senior official from the Attorney-General's Department who led the Australian delegation, according to the Guardian. "This proportion rises to 78% for young people between the ages of 10 and 13."
"This is a very serious issue, and what we're saying is now is the time for action."— ABC Indigenous (@ABCIndigenous) January 21, 2021
Australia urged by 31 countries at UN meeting to raise age of criminal responsibility. https://t.co/ILQm9xXvAb
The condemnation has been echoed closer to home as well.
Australia's Director at Human Rights Watch Elaine Pearson said the criticism was placed and made it abundantly clear that "the Australian government hasn't followed through on some of its key past pledges to the UN Human Rights Council."
The Law Council of Australia, meanwhile, said the messages were the strongest yet from the international community.
Law Council of Australia President Jacoba Brasch also noted that the correlation between child poverty, disadvantage, generational trauma, social and economic inequality and rates of youth criminalisation are undeniable.
"These are some of the most vulnerable children in society, who have frequently experienced issues such as parental incarceration, homelessness, neglect and poor health," Brasch said in a media release. "A low minimum age of criminal responsibility fails to prevent reoffending or to rehabilitate children. Instead, it is likely to entrench criminality and creates cycles of inter-generational disadvantage that heighten reoffending rates."
UN member states also called on Australia to reevaluate its mandatory offshore processing approach to asylum seekers. The immigration policy sees people who flee violence and arrive in Australia by boat forced into indefinite detention.
At the same time, China summoned Australia "to combat racial discrimination, hate speech and violence and protect the rights of ethnic minorities." Beijing further requested Australia "stop using false information to make baseless charges against other countries for political purposes."
Despite the harsh evaluation, Australia maintains it has made "significant achievements in the realisation of human rights."
"These include significant investments in addressing family and domestic violence, human trafficking and modern slavery and the legalisation of same-sex marriage," the government said in a submission to the review. “Australia’s laws and institutions function to protect human rights and support robust public debate of human rights issues.”