BENDIGO services have backed calls for Australia's minimum age of criminality to be raised from 10 to 14.
The Council of Attorneys-General met on Monday to discuss the potential change to legislation.
Advocates have been running the 'Raise The Age' campaign, which reports almost 600 Australian children aged 10 to 13 are in custody each year.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children account for about 65 per cent of the young children in prisons.
Bendigo and District Aboriginal Cooperative chief executive Raylene Harradine said children as young as 10 should not be in custody.
"We need to think about alternative ways of dealing with young people," Ms Harradine said. "I'm perplexed about our systems and what we're doing with young people.
"We need to start looking at how we work with our community. It's not just about building new facilities and locking people up.
"I don't know when we will see the numbers go down. We do the best we can with the resources we have but sometimes it's a vicious cycle."
Ms Harradine said cultural, grassroot organisations could help a lot of young Indigenous children.
"There's a lot of competing issues that are against our community," she said. "But cultural resilience is a very pivotal and strong thing.
"It can play a positive factor in regards to a person's trajectory. It can change someone's complete path if they have that Elder and custodial support."
ARC Justice executive officer Hayley Mansfield said Australia was lagging behind when it came to the minimum age of criminality.
"Most similar jurisdictions have set a minimum age of at least 14 years old, which is consistent with international human rights law," Ms Mansfield said.
"The United Nations last year recommended that 14 should be the minimum age of criminal responsibility.
"Early intervention support that focuses on families must be the priority, not criminalising the behaviour of children."
Ms Mansfield said there were often a range of factors that led children to being involved in the justice system, including neglect, family violence, and housing instability.
"Criminalising the behaviour of children doesn't solve the underlying issues which led to this behaviour occurring," she said.
"The focus of governments must be on therapeutic approaches which support families and children to address these underlying issues.
"If the aim of criminalising children's behaviour is to create behavioural change, evidence shows that this is unsuccessful, with children involved in the criminal justice system at a young age more likely to offend as adults.
"We must take an evidence-based approach to policy making and law reform, and the evidence shows that criminalising children's behaviour only encourages negative patterns of behaviour to continue."
Ms Mansfield said experts found children under the age of 14 were not developmentally mature enough to distinguish between bad behaviour and criminal acts.
"Holding a child in custody, even for a short period of time on remand, has long term impacts on children's mental health and wellbeing, and legislation must prevent this," she said.
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said more work needed to be done before a decision was made on the age of criminal responsibility.
That work is not expected to be finished until next year.
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