A Green members of the Scottish Parliament is today arguing that the legal definition of a child should be set at 18 in the Children's Hearing Bill.
This would ensure that young people between the ages of 16 and 18 do not face criminal charges for minor offences, and instead would be brought into the Children's Hearing system, which provides effective alternatives to custody for young people who are at risk of offending and re-offending.
Robin Harper MSP will make the plea during the Stage 3 debate of the Children’s Hearings Bill in the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood, Edinburgh.
By raising the age at which young people can be brought before a Children's Hearing, the Scottish Greens aim to reduce the numbers being sent to prison at an estimated cost of more than £31,000 a year.
Britain has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which defines those below the age of 18 as children, but the Children's Hearing Bill currently uses 16 as the age limit.
Mr Harper declared: "In too many cases, boys and girls with problems that are still unaddressed by the time they are 16 are locked up, unable to escape intimidation and bullying, and in places where their problems will continue. Short prison sentences also make it almost impossible to start any meaningful attempt to address these problems.
"Making Children's Hearings the default option for minor offences committed by young people up to the age of eighteen would bring Scotland into line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been rightly ratified by Britain and should be honoured."
He added: "Making this change will save money, but it cannot be made in isolation. Children's Hearings remain seriously underfunded, and if Ministers take a longer term view to support them Scotland could see some significant benefits that spill over beyond simply the criminal justice system."