Reviewing Criminal Offences Committed By Children Criminology Essay

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Juvenile Delinquent is a young person, under the adult age (in Malta, under the age of sixteen) who was engaged in a criminal behaviour.

The Maltese Civil Code defines a minor "as a person of either sex who has not yet attained the age of eighteen years". Additionally the Maltese Criminal Code [2] provides certain protection from severe punishments and even no punishment to minors despite the fact that a minor was involved in a criminal offence.

Children under the age of nine are considered to be Doli Incapax which means that under law, a child is not liable for the criminal offence that he commits. Article 35 Sub-article 1 [3] states that a criminal offence committed by a child who do not attained the age of nine years does not imposes any criminal responsibility on that child, hence the concept of Doli Incapax applies well in Malta since no court action can be taken against. Furthermore it [4] also protects minors under the age of fourteen who proves that the criminal offence was carried out without mischievous discretion. Van Kalmthout et. al. [5] defines mischievous discretion as "the consciousness of the wrongfulness of an act and of its consequences".

The criminal code also provides certain privileged treatment to minors when compared to an adult. The law under different articles inhibits punishments in case of an offence carried out who attained the age of fourteen to eighteen year. For instance Article 37 imposes that the punishment given to a minor should be diminished by one or two degrees.

There isn't an international agreement on the age when a child is deemed criminal responsible, this various in different countries around the world. Schwiezer (1994) found that in Mexico the age is from 6 to 12 years, in Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Africa, Sudan, Tanzania, Thailand, and USA the age for criminal responsibility is 7, in Indonesia, Kenya and in UK (Scotland only) the age is 8, Ethiopia, Philippines and in Iran the age is 9. Furthermore in the latter country, gender discrimination exists because the age rises to 15 years when the criminal activity is carried out by a boy. In Nepal, UK (England), UK (Wales) and in Ukraine the age is set up for 10, in Turkey the age is 11, in Republic of Korea, Morocco and Uganda the age is 12. In Algeria France Poland and in Uzbekistan the age is 13, in China, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia ,Vietnam and Egypt the age is 15, in Argentina is 16, while in Brazil, Colombia and Peru the age is 18, this is adulthood age.

The various age brackets in different jurisdictions illustrate that every nation around the world is different and hence also the development of an individual is different. Factors which influence such development are discussed in the following chapter.

At what age are minors capable of understanding the seriousness of their actions? Do young people have the same ability to understand the consequences of their actions as adults?

Although the Maltese law established the age brackets of when a child is deemed responsible for his misbehaviour, it imposes a duty on the juvenile court to analyse further every case due the concepts of Doli Incapax and mens rea. Mens rea means that the juvenile committing a crime knows and understand that he is misbehaving and also that he is committing a crime. Hence in order to conclude whether a child is responsible for the crime he commits, one has to explore the characteristics of the child's personality i.e the moral development and the cognitive development independently of the crime he committed.

Every child develops it moral and cognitive differently. This development occurs at different ages in every person. One can noticed that some juveniles are more intelligent than others. For example Bernard who was six years may be acting at mischievous discretion while Clive was not acting at mischievous discretion at the age of sixteen.

The determination of age is problematic since every individual reach maturity at a different age. The moral development refers to the individual ability to distinguish the right things from the wrong. There are some factors which may hinder such development such as the social, cultural, rules and norms. If for example a child lives in a family where there is inadequate supervision, he will be lacking in his moral development when compared with a child living under an adequate supervision.

Cognitive development refers to the ability that the child can control his impulses and resist the temptation in order to behave in a certain manner. The defence system in a person develops at a later stage and hence it is more likely to be lacking inside children. The process of such development various in children and depends on the surrounding environment. Piaget (1972) states that the cognitive development is not an automatic process but it depends mainly on the level of education the child receives. For example the child of a wealthy family is more likely to have a higher level of education than the one of a poor family.

A study [6] carried out in New York found that the quality of parenting and the economic resources of the family are the most contributing factors to the children's cognitive development. It concluded that "mothers who had greater economic resources were more supportive in parenting of their children, which in turn influenced children's cognitive performance." Lugo-Gil (2008) stated that "these findings point to the importance of examining parenting resources and parenting quality as joint contributors to children's development,"

Additional Rolf Loeber also compliments by stating that "Poor parental child-rearing practices cause children to grow up as delinquents or delinquent parents produce delinquent children." Mostly in majority of cases child's development was effected by heredity issues.

The Cambridge Study (Farrington 1986) identified the following factors; impulsivity, intelligence, family factors, socio-economic deprivation peer influence, school factors, community influences and situational factors. This study says that offending increases to a peak in teenage year then declines. It states that the peak ages are between seventeen and twenty three years.

Furthermore Piaget stated that the social and environmental factors have an impact on the cognitive structures and information processing model. A juvenile's self esteem will be low due the fact that he lives in a difficult environment where he was exposed to life barriers at earlier stages of his life. The child behaviour depends on the race and social class he is part of. For example a child living in a low social class, it is more likely that he has lower opportunities than the rest of his classmates which enhance them to carry out a criminal activity. Coddy (2006) study illustrates that in Pittsburgh research, three hundred out of five hundred delinquents interviewed were African American, while the remaining were Caucasian in race. Hence the race also has a negative impact on the criminal activities carried out by juvenile.

Most people commit crimes and others commit delinquent acts sometimes in their lives, but not everyone becomes defined as deviant. In Malta this can be seen in fight involving youths. In low income areas such as Bormla, Marsa, Hal Qormi, and the most of Malta's south rural areas may be defined by police as evidence of delinquency, while in a wealthy neighbourhood such a Sliema, there is evidence of youthful high spirit not juvenile delinquency.

The peer groups have high influence on the way of living of an individual. Some criminal activities carried out by teenager are the result of peer group influence. Vitaro (1997) stated that

"The peer influence model suggests that ineffective parenting leads to association with deviant friends which, in turn leads to delinquency,"

Hains (1980) found that juvenile non-delinquents were more likely to defend against temptation than delinquents. He found that the age of a child does not affect resistance level of temptation. In line with Piagetian cognitive development theory, Hains found that non delinquents are in front of delinquents in terms of cognitive and moral development.

Mandel (2008) states that although researchers agrees with the statement that the delinquent behaviour is very complex and that there are various factors which causes some children and youth to commit criminal activities.

What age, if any should be set for criminal responsibility?

The age establishment of criminal responsibility is debatable. Some people might think that the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be abolished completely. They believe that a person whether an adult or a minor, who had breached the law regardless of the age, should be deemed liable and subject to prosecution and punished in the same way. They argue that due the fact that a child was able to act as an adult in committing a criminal activity, he should be responsible for the wrongdoing and punished as adults.

Other person believes that the parents should be held responsible for their children's misbehaviour. Some researcher conducted as mentioned above clarifies the fact that moral and cognitive developments are influenced and depends on parental child rearing.

Although parents are responsible to provide their children with good education, I believe that they should not always be held responsible for all the actions committed by their children. Some behaviour may be influenced and in most cases forced by the peer groups.

On the other hand some people argue that punishment may discourage the repetition of a criminal activity carried out by a juvenile. Since a child is not responsible for his crime, he is more at ease to commit other crimes and even more scrupulous crimes such as murders.

The age established by law where a child is deemed responsible for his crime should be the one that imposes a level of responsibility for misconduct and unlawful activity and also to preclude reoccurrence in the future. Hence the legal system should enhance the children sense of responsibility in the future. Steinberg (2005) states that he believes that courts should be able to punish some 16 or 17 year olds as adults, in order to discourage reoccurrence of the criminal activity in the future, especially to those delinquents who refuse the rehabilitation and who endanger other youth in the juvenile system. Steinberg said "I don't think there are a lot of these kids."

Furthermore the educational system should enhance the children awareness on the consequences imposed on the victims and the community by his wrongdoing. It should make up and also cover up the superfluous violence presented by the majority of the cartoon and other children programs shown on the television. The system should also provide awareness in relation to the fictitious element embedded in Television programs.


Children of today are the adults of tomorrow; therefore the Juvenile Justice system should discourage the occurrence of criminal activities. Preventive measures should be in place, in order to reduce the amount of juvenile delinquents. As mentioned in this paper all the factors such as the family, peer group, education, social and environment factors, which have an impact on the childhood development should enhance the good transformation from a child to an adult and discourage criminal activities.

Morality development depends on the cognitive awareness. In the teen years, the brain is still maturing; hence the reasoning and judgement continue to develop until reaching the age of twenty. In real world, one has to experience something such as hurting your finger when touching a hot teapot; this is the most efficient way of learning. As a child grows in a society, he started to learn. Therefore the more exposed a child is to the environment around him, the more he learns. Children are egoistic individuals because they only care about themselves, yet they become aware of their surroundings, the meanings, and reasons of why the world functions in a particular matter. They learn through interactions with their peers and adults.

Establishing an age is not an easy task and the age is not a good indicator of whether a delinquent is acting at mischievous discretion or not. The age of puberty occurs differently in various individuals and it also various during time. Osgerby (1998) states that "the age of puberty has lowered due to improvements in diet and living conditions".