The age of criminal responsibility is set to be raised to 12 in the hope of reducing the number of children entering the criminal justice system.
Under legislation being introduced no child under the age of 12 will receive a criminal record.
It follows a consultation in which 95 per cent of respondents supported raising the age of criminal responsibility from eight, the lowest age in Europe.
The Age of Criminal Responsibility (Scotland) Bill will bring the age a child can be held responsible for their crimes into line with the minimum age for prosecution.
Early Years minister Maree Todd said: “All children deserve the best possible start in life and this legislation marks a key milestone in Scotland’s journey to ensure children are respected and valued.
“We know the actions of children who harm others are often a symptom of trauma in their own lives and that accruing a criminal record actually drives more offending.
“This legislation will help turn around the lives of troubled, primary school age children – who are often vulnerable themselves – by addressing their deeds in the context of supporting their needs.
“Importantly, the bill contains measures to provide reassurance to victims and communities that serious incidents will still be responded to appropriately.”
The minimum age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10.
The Scottish Government said any information on harmful or concerning behaviour involving children under the age of 12 would no longer be disclosed automatically but would be subject to independent review on a case by case basis. Where appropriate the behaviour of children under the age of 12 will continue to be addressed in the children’s hearings system.
Scotland’s children’s commissioner, Bruce Adamson, said the legislation did not go far enough. He said: “I’m pleased that Scotland will no longer be the only country in Europe where an eight-year-old can be treated as a criminal. However, raising the age to 12 still leaves us with one of the lowest ages of criminal responsibility in the world.
“The UN has been very clear that having an age of criminal responsibility under 12 is not internationally acceptable. Over a decade ago it called for increases above that absolute minimum.”