The age at which young people are referred to children’s hearings in Scotland could be raised from 16 to 18.
Children’s hearings take place when a child is accused of a crime or if concerns are raised about their welfare.
The Scottish Government has launched a consultation on whether the age bar should be lifted, saying it would allow more young people to benefit from greater protection.
Currently, only 16 and 17-year-olds who are already within the children’s hearing system can be referred or have their order continued until they are 18.
The proposed change would mean all people under 18 who are accused of a serious crime by police would be referred to the children’s reporter and the procurator fiscal.
The procurator fiscal would then decide whether the case should be dealt with by a children’s hearing or a court, following consultation with the children’s reporter.
Children’s minister Maree Todd said: “We know many vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds currently fall outwith the children’s hearings system and we want to ensure all children and young people get the right support, care and protection at the right time.
“Our consultation calls for views on whether all under-18s should be supported in a child-centred system.
“This includes vulnerable young people at risk of exploitation, abuse or harm due to their own behaviour or the behaviour of others.
“The responses to our consultation will be vital in considering the best way forward and I look forward to considering all views.”
Neil Hunter, chief executive of the Scottish Children’s Reporters Administration, said: “This is a hugely important consultation.
“As Scotland moves ever forward in aiming to incorporate the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and in keeping the promise of the Independent Care Review, the need for us to have an inclusive and welfare-based approach to the needs of all children is more critical than ever.
“The Scottish Government is to be commended for picking this issue up and attempting to close this gap and anomaly in our approach in Scotland.”
Kate Wallace, chief executive of the Victim Support Scotland charity, said she supports the consultation and its aims of reducing the root causes of youth offending.