Nicola Sturgeon has faced pressure to increase the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to 14 or risk lagging behind Russia and China.
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie questioned if the First Minister would instruct her party to vote against proposals to raise the age to 14 in a vote next week.
Legislation to increase the age from eight to 12 is due to be debated at stage two and the Lib Dems propose this is further increased to 14.
Speaking at First Minster’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said the Government would continue to listen to views and evidence but “at the moment our balance judgement is that 12 is the right age”.
Mr Rennie said her response was “incredibly disappointing” and called on her to reconsider.
“I do not support 13-year-olds being branded as criminals for the rest of their lives for mistakes made in childhood,” he said.
“Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner said this week that Scotland is failing children and falling far behind international standards.
“Scotland will be behind those bastions of human rights, Russia and China.
“The United Nations and the European Commissioner for Human Rights have pleaded with the Scottish Government to see sense.
“Just last year, Nicola Sturgeon claimed Scotland would be a world leader on human rights.
“But the First Minister should know, you cannot lead the world from the back of the pack. Will, therefore, she think again?”
Ms Sturgeon said Mr Rennie “misrepresents and mischaracterises” the overall way young people accused of offences are dealt with in Scotland.
She said staff at a secure unit told her Scotland is seen as “world leader” in this respect.
“The age of criminal responsibility is important but the overall way in which we deal with young people in they system is what is really important,” Ms Sturgeon said.
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