Age Of Criminal Responsibility Should Be Raised
Should the age of criminal responsibility be raised to 16 or even 18 across the world?
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Children do not have the emotional maturity to be responsible in law for their actions. We all know...
Children do not have the emotional maturity to be responsible in law for their actions. We all know that children cannot always make informed decisions. It is for this reason that children in many countries cannot vote or drink alcohol or consent to sex. Children have not had enough experience of life and do not yet have the same mental and emotional abilities as adults. They are often not aware of the consequences of their actions. Even where they know the difference between right and wrong, they often don't understand the difference between various levels of wrongdoing. It is therefore unfair to hold them criminally responsible for these actions.
Children do know the difference between right and wrong. The abduction and murder of Jamie Bulger in England in 1993 by two 10 year-old boys demonstrated this. Jon Venables and Robert Thompson must have known that what they did was wrong, or they would not have lied about it and covered it up. Moreover, it is important that the criminal law underlines the difference between right and wrong by punishing children who commit crimes.
Criminalising children harms their development and makes the situation worse. Being labelled as a c...
Criminalising children harms their development and makes the situation worse. Being labelled as a criminal at a very young age is unlikely to lead to a better understanding of right and wrong. Instead, a child who does not understand the wrongfulness of what they have done may feel unjustly treated and feel bitter toward society. Or the child might simply accept the label of being criminal and resign themselves to it. Children who are labelled criminals are also likely to be treated worse by those around them, such as teachers or other parents, separating them from society. In addition, those sent to prison or young offender institutes are cut off from their friends and family and develop friendships with other criminals, possibly even sharing ideas about crimes. All of these reactions are likely to make the child’s situation worse and increase the chance of future criminal behaviour.
Criminalising children is necessary to show that their actions were wrong. Children who commit crimes have often grown up in communities without a structure of control. They may see drug-taking, domestic violence and criminal activity in their homes, and they have often skipped school. These children must be punished so that they learn the true costs of their actions. They are less likely to commit further crimes in the future if they know that they will receive a punishment. In addition, other children are less likely to commit crimes if they know a punishment will follow.
Children who commit crimes are victims of circumstance. We should address these circumstances rathe...
Children who commit crimes are victims of circumstance. We should address these circumstances rather than punishing them. Studies show that they are often vulnerable children who have grown up in poverty, been uncared for by their parents, moved house a lot, been abused, been victims or members of gang activity, and often skipped school. Rather than sending these children to young offender institutes, often harming their education and training them to be criminals, we should take other measures. As in Norway, for example, social authorities should take action to secure the child’s development through counselling or time in a special care unit. Measures should depend of the child’s circumstances, rather than how bad their crime was. This is more likely to reduce criminal behaviour in the future. In addition, there are issues about ‘class’ here. Rich children are less likely to be criminalised because their parents can deal better with the situation and pay for better lawyers.
Children would be at more risk if they could not receive criminal punishments. These children may sometimes be the victims of circumstance, but criminal punishment can be combined with rehabilitation. Education and training in prison will mean that child criminals can be brought back into society. If criminal sanctions were not available, children would be more likely to be used to assist older criminals. Older brothers or friends would be more likely to bully children into carrying weapons or drugs, or climbing through windows during burglaries if they could not be put on trial. Gangs would be encouraged to recruit younger members. This would make it harder for children to avoid being involved in crime.
Children cannot have a fair trial. Given the serious consequences of being found guilty, it is impo...
Children cannot have a fair trial. Given the serious consequences of being found guilty, it is important that people have a fair trial to find out whether they are guilty and to make sure any punishment is just. Children often struggle to understand the trial process which may be long, technical and stressful. Children are unlikely to have the concentration to follow the evidence properly and may not be able to give clear and consistent instructions to their lawyers. This can lead to great injustice if the child cannot adequately follow the trial because they do not understand, or are intimidated by, the strange setting and the language used. For example, in the Jamie Bulger case (see above), it was noted that throughout much of the three week trial the boys looked bewildered and bored, and that neither boy gave evidence.
It is possible to make the system work for children. Many countries, such as Australia, Singapore and the USA have special courts for offenders under the age of 18. These courts are designed to be simpler and less intimidating so that children can understand what is happening. Using specially trained lawyers who are used to working with children can also help. It is possible for children to have a fair trial so long as safeguards are in place.
What do you think?