SYDNEY - Australia will review the cases of 24 Indonesians convicted of people-smuggling to check whether or not they are minors, Attorney-General Nicola Roxon said Wednesday.
Roxon said 22 of the cases had been raised by the Australian Human Rights Commission, which last year said there was a "high risk" Indonesians under the age of 18 were being held in adult prisons, and two others by Indonesia.
"Minors don't belong in adult jails and I am taking seriously the concerns of the Australian Human Rights Commission and the Indonesian government," Roxon said.
"The individuals who are part of this review were all legally represented, 14 of them pleaded guilty, and only three contested age in court proceedings.
"Ultimately, it is the courts which determine the age of people-smugglers - but age determination is not an exact science, which is why I've asked for this review."
As a rule, Australia does not prosecute minors accused of people-smuggling and Roxon said prosecutors give the benefit of the doubt in cases where age cannot be clearly established.
But advocates for Indonesians hired to crew asylum-seeker boats have complained that mistakes about their clients' ages, sometimes as a result of wrist X-rays, had resulted in children being placed in adult jails.
The accuracy of wrist X-rays, an age-profiling tool which compares an individual's bone growth against a standard "atlas" developed in the US in the 1950s of children's bones at different ages, has in particular come under fire.
Canberra last year expanded the methods Australian Federal Police can use to determine the age of people-smugglers to include voluntary dental X-rays, interviews, and requests for evidence from the person's country of origin.
Roxon said if the new review revealed any of those convicted of people-smuggling were minors, they could be released and repatriated.
Some 24 people-smuggling boats, mostly from Indonesia, have been intercepted by Australian authorities since August.
Canberra's decision came as people-smuggling charges against three Indonesians were dropped after their lawyers argued it could not be proven they knew they were coming to Australia. The men are expected to be repatriated.