Individuals suspected of offences can be arrested and charged from the age of 10 under the existing rules.
This is lower than in many European countries and “inconsistent with accepted international standards”, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC).
It says criminalising children at the age of 10 or 11 can have a detrimental impact on their wellbeing and development, and risks making them more likely to reoffend as adults.
The EHRC is calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be “significantly” raised.
David Isaac, chairman of the commission, said: “Increasing the age of criminal responsibility is crucial to stop very young children being exposed to the harmful effects of detention and to protect their future.”
Having the age of criminal responsibility set at 10 allows for early intervention in a child’s life with the aim of preventing subsequent offending, according to the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
An MoJ spokeswoman said: “Younger children who offend are often diverted from the justice system or dealt with out of court and, in the last decade, there has been an 86% reduction in the number of under 18-year-olds entering the youth justice system.”
The EHRC flagged up the issue in a wide-ranging submission to a United Nations review.
It also recommended action to address overcrowding in prisons and the introduction of a 28-day time limit on immigration detention.
The Government said it is “committed to ensuring people in custody are treated fairly and appropriately”.