The level of criminal responsibility of a child is perhaps one of the most challenging issues in the society and has been a source of heated debate. The general compromise in many countries lies in the fact that children should not be held responsible for their criminal activities because they are unaware that their actions are wrong and have to be punishment by the law. A defendant in a criminal case cannot be said to have acted with intent to have no awareness element and this is important in securing a criminal conviction. A child should not be presumed as an adult. A child should be permitted to enjoy his or her youth and not be held accountable for their deeds in the same manner as an adult. However, it has been thought that adults could use the fact that children cannot bear responsibility for their criminal activities to their own benefit by using a child to commit a crime they would have otherwise committed themselves. The nature of criminal behavior changes with time and children seem to become mature faster than previously thereby the age of criminal responsibility has reduced over the years.
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Simply put, to be held accountable for a criminal act means that the perpetrator must comprehend what he is doing and know that it is wrong. Most children between the age of six and twelve years old are too immature to fully understand the difference between right and wrong (Cengage, 2006). The prosecution in such cases has to prove that a child knew that his or her actions were wrong at the time of offence, a factor that has proved to be very difficult. The understanding of right and wrong is said to start and develop in the early stages of life. It is usually dependent on interactions between the child and the caregivers usually within the family. Young children are sensitive to the standards set by adults regarding what is right and what is wrong and are consequently aware of the rules that exist regarding harm to others, property, cleanliness and other basic living standards. In this case, a six-year-old brought a gun to school and shot his classmate after what is thought to be a provocation from the previous day. Looking at the child’s family, his father and grandfather were in prison for gun-related charges. He lived with his mother, an uncle and a younger sibling. Police recovered a stolen gun in the house. Focusing on this scenario, the child had been living in an environment where crime has been thriving. The adults in his family were involved in gun-related crime. Furthermore, the gun recovered in the home indicated that the boy had been exposed to crime at a young age. Moral development of a child forms from the awareness of feelings and rules therefore depending on emotional and cognitive maturity (Saul, 2010). There are several stages of cognitive development and the key to this discussion is the preconvention stage where a child lacks the ability to have a social or shared viewpoint. Their moral judgment is egocentric and normally is based on acting in one’s own best interest rather than social interest and letting others do the same (Berger, 2011). In this case, the child committed the offence because he was previously provoked by the other child and wanted to scare her in the process. Cognitive abilities differ with age as the reasoning capabilities are thought to increase through childhood. The basic improvement in reasoning capabilities is aided by the increase in general knowledge gained through education and experience (Saul, 2010). It is believed that levels of psychological and cognitive development are mostly responsible for shaping the choices, whether good or bad in young children and may undermine competent decision making (Berger, 2011). Immature decision making capabilities and constrained autonomy make young people more vulnerable to influence of coercive circumstances that are responsible for provocation.
Children raised in environment characterized by psychosocial chaos and moral lawlessness such as the one evident in this case are more likely to lack the relationships that are vital to the development of an understanding of social rules and are unlikely to experience the emotional nurturing and support that is essential for development of understanding of their own feelings and to develop empathy for others. Children from such backgrounds are less likely to understand consequences of their actions and have diminished ability to understand what is right and wrong.
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