By Anaseini Nuku, Commonwealth Youth New Zealand Policy Subcommittee Member
As a member country of the Commonwealth, New Zealand has made a commitment to uphold the core values established in the Commonwealth Charter. These values include protecting and promoting human rights, upholding the rule of law, and recognising the importance of young people.
This is why we add our voice to the call for New Zealand to include 17-year-olds within the youth justice system.
As a signatory of the Commonwealth Charter, New Zealand has made the commitment to promote and protect all human rights of all people, and has recognised that these rights are “universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated and cannot be implemented selectively”. We cannot endorse a café-style system of human rights where we pick and choose the rights we want to protect.
Once a young person commits an offence and comes into contact with the adult justice system, they become more inclined to reoffend – particularly if they are incarcerated. The youth justice system was established to protect children and young people from the adult justice system, while still keeping them accountable for their actions. And it works – children and young people are less likely to reoffend if they encounter the youth justice system than if they encounter the adult one.
If 17 year olds are not included in the youth justice system, they will be denied their entitlement to equal treatment to all other children.
The future of our nation and the Commonwealth lies within the hands of our young people. New Zealand affirmed this when we signed the Commonwealth Declaration on Young People in 2009. Therefore, it is our responsibility to ensure that all young people are provided with the right support to see them thrive and realise their potential.
It’s easy to provide support and contribute to the successful development of our young people who are already on the right pathway to success. We put the challenge to the government, that they make an equal, if not bigger commitment to supporting the development and success of our young people who are more vulnerable to moving into a life of crime.
This is New Zealand’s chance to act as a model and catalyst for other Commonwealth nations. Including 17 year olds in the youth justice system will be a start to ensuring all children and young people are given the right support to see them thrive and succeed in the future.