Friday, April 9, 2010

On Children Who Kill

Children who commit horrible crimes present as special a case as can be imagined for the criminal justice system. What do we do with such people? The seemingly polar opposites of choice, between rehabilitation and punishment invite the most extreme views.

Such children provoke a response in some sections of society that is truly bestial. The awfulness of the crime can be reflected in the mindless, bestial response it provokes. The same people who march for "saving the children" can just as easily call for the most horrible punishments to be inflicted upon other children. This was recently illustrated by the children’s charity Kidscape protesting at the 'short' sentence handed down to two children who brutalised other kids. We only want to protect 'nice' kids, apparently, and the bad ones can rot in hell.

I have my own extreme view. Along with most jurisdictions in the Western world, I don't believe that ten year old children can be held fully responsible for their actions. It follows that they cannot bear the same criminal responsibility as adults.

At such a young age, I believe that few children are irredeemable and that huge efforts should be expended in order to guide their psychological development so that a reasonable adult emerges.

I also believe that those amongst us who spout hatred at such children should examine their consciences. It is because of such people - responsible adults! - that some criminals require new identities. Having whipped-up a vigilante level of mindless vitriol, it ill befits us to then complain about the expense required to keep such child criminals safe.

The decent thing would be to drop the subtext of the public pronouncements and be brutally honest. Many people do hold ten year old murderers to be fully responsible and they hate them with an energy that they rarely direct at adult killers. Some people, media barons amongst them, would dearly love to hound these criminals every day of their lives, both provoking then recording their torments for our delight. Some would openly call for their own murder, preferably after prolonged torture.

All of these statements are, I honestly believe, true and only barely masked in media reporting. Whilst parading in the clothes of moral outrage, these commentators, editorials and victims representatives are indulging in a horrific pantomime whose end is hoped to be bloody. Their hate and vicarious pleasure in rehashing the awful crime blinds them to their own sense of shame.

Our treatment of children who kill is a lens through which we can examine society. And what it is revealing is repulsive.


  1. Very true Ben!
    As a sick society like the one we live in, it is high time we examined our own consciences and questioned our beliefs and values. No child is born a murderer, a liar, a sex offender etc. However, your comment on the media is so spot on, they divert all their attention, obviously filled with hate and loathing for justice and the ordinary person that they support mass murderers and crucify a child. Murder is murder what ever form or shape it takes, but unless people examine their own consciences and question themselves as to why they behave the way they do, or believe what they believe, society will remain fucked up because children of today are the adults of tomorrow.

  2. I hear what you are saying Ben, but at the same time, i know what i was doing at ten years old, if it was right or wrong.

  3. Anonymous,

    Really? Because I didn't.

    Should all 10 year olds be held to that standard because you were precocious?

    You may well have known the difference between right and wrong, but did you have the mental control at that tender age to never do something you shouldn't have? Can you now, as an adult, honestly say you never loose it?

  4. I understand that Ben probably has a better insight into this than most and yes decent parenting would sort a good many problems out. Surely most ten year olds would know that killing another is not acceptable behaviour. At ten years of age I may have thrown a tantrum but would never hurt anything or anybody and probably still would not. There is no justification for violence and maybe we need to look more deeply into parenting standards involved in these cases.

  5. Wigarse, only my mum is deluded enough to say i am an angel, but i can honestly say, kidnapping a child, and killing it, after a few hours of torture has never entered my head.

    This is a sad story all round: You have to have sympathy for the Bulger family, that must be the most horrific thing ever. And it is tragic that the 2 ten year olds have had such a bad start in life.

    They did only get 8 years for their crime; a friend of mine is doing 9 years for a lot less (that didn't involve a rape or murder).

  6. If the Jeremy Kyle show was transported back in time, and shown to a British audience of 40 years ago, there would be public outrage from a society that knew itself.

    In the soviet Britain of today, moral relativism has left the populace with no moral sheet anchor. Political correctness has made words so suspect that verbal resolution is becoming defunct, therefore the single parent harridans on the JK show are the normalcy of society: if we cannot talk we have to scream.

    Children's morality is only the aping of those that govern their little lives. If they are surrounded by screeching harridans, then that is their fiducial point.

  7. On the below comment (from another 'anon' upthread:

    'They did only get 8 years for their crime'

    But 8 years when they were incarcerated was another lifetime (they were 10!) By the time they were released, they had spent half their natural lives locked up. Furthermore, their incarceration was within a secure children's care unit - designed not only punish but to care, to educate and address behaviour change.

    Much good was done with those two boys (one appears to have formed a loving relationship and has not as far as we know, reoffended after nine years on the 'outside'). That good would have been undone in the setting of an adult prison (which is where they would have had to been transferred).

    Rehabilitation is not a favour we can just choose to dole out to young offenders but something we owe to ourselves as a civilised society.