The Scottish Liberal Democrats have launched a bid to change the law to increase the age of criminal responsibility in Scotland to 16.
While legislation currently going through Holyrood aims to raise this from eight to 12, the Lib Dems said that still left Scotland “at the bottom of the pack”.
MSP Alex Cole-Hamiton said it is time for Scotland to “get ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting our children” by increasing the age at which they can be held accountable for their behaviour by the courts.
The Liberal Democrats have lodged amendments to the Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill which would, if passed, increase the age to 16.
If MSPs will not back this, the party has also put forward proposals to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14.
It comes after a new report, commissioned by Action for Children Scotland and Children’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson, called for 16 to be fixed as the age for criminal responsibility.
Mr Cole-Hamilton, who worked as a children’s campaigner before being elected to Holyrood, said the SNP Government had had to be “dragged kicking and screaming to raise the age of criminal responsibility”.
He said: “The fact that they blocked Lib Dem attempts to increase it to 12 twice in the last Parliament means Scotland remains the only country in the EU where a nine-year-old’s choices can still have to be declared at 29, destroying their chance of getting on.
“I want to see the age of criminal responsibility raised to 16. This is the level we should be aspiring for.
“It is the level the UN is set to commend and would take Scotland to the forefront of progressive practice in Europe.
“Those youngsters would still be dealt with properly through the more appropriate children’s hearing system.”
Mr Cole-Hamilton, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee added: “The Bill the SNP Government has put before Parliament would still leave Scotland at the bottom of the pack.
“After trailing behind international standards for years, it’s time for us to get ahead of the curve when it comes to protecting our children.
“It’s wrong that vulnerable children, whose mistakes can often be traced to circumstances outwith their control, can find themselves being punished for the rest of their lives.”
A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “The case for change to age 12 is clear and compelling.
“It aligns with our age of prosecution and also reflects current presumptions and rights around maturity, representation and participation in the children’s hearings system.
“It is this government that will deliver that important change by legislating next year.”
She added: “We acknowledge there are those who would rather have a higher age of criminal responsibility than 12, and I am confident we can build a shared understanding of that and, that with this reform, we can build consensus.
“We look forward to continuing discussions on this issue, however, in doing so it will be vital to sustain public, political and professional confidence in our approach.”