A human rights watchdog is leading calls for the age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales to be increased in line with international standards.
Currently, in the UK a child can be deemed responsible for committing a crime at the age of 10.
England and Wales have the lowest age for criminal responsibility in Europe alongside Switzerland, in other countries the age is significantly higher – 14 in Germany, 15 in Sweden and 16 in Portugal.
Hundreds of 10 and 11-year-old children are receiving youth cautions or court convictions each year.
Government figures show that in the year ending March 2018, there were 47 10-year-olds and 229 11-year-olds who received a youth caution or court conviction in England and Wales.
Although there has been a significant reduction in the number of children in custody over recent years, England and Wales still have the highest number of imprisoned children in Western Europe according to figures from the Howard League for Penal Reform.
Now, the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has called on lawmakers to increase the age at which a child can be deemed responsible for committing a crime bringing it in line with the rest of Europe.
The EHRC has also raised concerns over the welfare of children in youth custody, highlighting the deteriorating conditions in prisons as well as the increase in the use of pain-inducing restraints.
The watchdog also raised significant concerns about the welfare of children in youth custody, highlighting that prison conditions are deteriorating and the use of restraint, including pain-inducing restraint, is increasing.
Segregating children as punishment is also increasing, with some children in young offender institutions) isolated for over 22 hours a day, for periods extending to 30 days or more.
David Isaac, chair of the EHRC, said: “Increasing the age of criminal responsibility is essential to protect children and their futures. We know that very young children who are detained are more likely to re-offend as adults.
The EHRC recommended that the UK government adopts more welfare-based approaches for dealing with children in the criminal justice system.
It reiterated its calls for a ban on any technique that deliberately inflicts pain on children and added that where detention is necessary as a last resort, children should not be kept in prison-like settings, but detained in safe and appropriate environments.