This question could be worded slightly differently and then debated; it would provide intriguing schools of argument which would have a sound foundation and hold certain merit. It all depends on one’s considered view about when a juvenile develops a conscience and a sense of right and wrong.
My personal belief is that a child knows the basic difference between good and bad from a very early age. However a psychopath will never develop a conscience regardless of their years.
I think one should carefully reflect on their childhood and one’s own siblings. Furthermore, one’s own children and just how much a ten year old is actually aware of.
When I was six and my brother eight, we once played truant from school, we knew it was wrong. It was also very foolish as I actually liked primary and junior school!
So yes, whilst one is certainly not necessarily wise at a young age and clearly has much to learn, one instinctively knows the difference between right and wrong. Similarly we most certainly know that there is good and bad – this knowledge is with us from an early age.
Most countries differ in their opinions on when a juvenile should be certified to stand trial as an adult; in some European countries, the age of criminal responsibility is 14. In the UK it was 10, when Jon Venables and Robert Thompson murdered two year old Jamie Bulger.
This killing was so outrageous and barbaric that it is widely reported all over the world. Venables and Thompson were eleven years of age when convicted of the crime in November 1993. The killers were given new identities and released in 2001.
Dr Maggie Atkinson is The Children’s Commissioner in the UK. She was appointed despite widespread opposition and has attracted much criticism for claiming that the young boys who tortured and killed James Bulger should not have been charged and that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to twelve years.
She had to subsequently apologise to Ms Denise Fergus, the mother of Jamie Bulger, for her inappropriate and insensitive comments but she still clearly feels her views are correct, although the vast majority of the public disagree with her.
This consensus was supported when in 2010, Jon Venables was charged and convicted in connection with child pornography offences. He is in custody once again but with his identity still remaining secret..
Many would take the view then that Venables was evil when he was a boy and remains evil today; perhaps at the age of ten, ones nature is already determined.
If the age of criminal responsibility is raised to 12, 14 or beyond, would there not be a danger that gangs of children could be organised to commit criminal acts and they would effectively become “untouchable” as they would be unaccountable for their actions?
Arguably the views of Maggie Atkinson are potentially extremely dangerous to society.
A serious crime cannot be discounted because someone is only a juvenile – it remains a serious crime and must be dealt with in a manner that is safe and fair to society.
The age of criminal responsibility differs greatly from country to country throughout the world; it varies from six to eighteen years.
Perhaps some crimes are so serious that only an adult court could deal with them regardless of the age of the offender; for minor offences a juvenile court would be sufficient.