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Eleven children under 12 arrested for crimes including violence and possessing weapons in Northern Ireland

By Rebecca Black

Published 15/12/2015

Youngsters have been held for a range of serious offences. Image posed
Youngsters have been held for a range of serious offences. Image posed
Koulla Yiasouma

Children as young as 10 have been arrested for serious offences including violence against people and possession of an offensive weapon, it can be revealed.

In total, 11 children under the age of 12 were arrested over the incidents last year, according to figures released by the PSNI.

Two of those arrested were 10-year-olds, while nine were 11-year-olds.

The most serious offences they were held for included possession of an offensive weapon and violence against a person. The other arrests concerned burglary, theft and criminal damage.

The number of children arrested in 2013 was broadly similar - one 10-year-old and nine 11-year-olds.

The figures emerged as a row continued within the Executive over whether the age of criminal responsibility should be kept at 10 or increased to 12.

Justice Minister David Ford supports the increase, but chair of the Justice Committee Alastair Ross said the seriousness of some of the crimes young children had been involved in had caused a degree of reluctance to raise the age of responsibility.

"The tragic case of Jamie Bulger lives long in the memory of all of us and illustrates why there is quite rightly a reluctance to change the age of criminal responsibility," he insisted.

"It should also be noted there have been 11-year-olds in Northern Ireland charged with serious offences including motoring offences, burglary and even violence against a person.

"These are not minor offences, and the victims of those crimes will feel no less suffering because of the age of the perpetrator."

Mr Ross added that the Justice Committee had been exploring youth justice through innovation seminars, examining how early interventions and diversions can help young people turn their lives around.

Under current laws, children as young as 10 can be brought before courts and charged with criminal offences in England and Wales. However, earlier this year Scotland raised its age of responsibility from eight to 12.

Northern Ireland Children's Commissioner Koulla Yiasouma has called for the age to be increased here.

"In the 2011 Youth Justice Review, a number of recommendations were made, and on Friday we learned in a report from the Criminal Justice Inspectorate that over 40% of these have still not been implemented," she told the Belfast Telegraph.

"One of the outstanding issues identified was raising the age of criminal responsibility.

"I wholeheartedly support the call to raise the age of criminal responsibility. This is in line with the age recommended by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, and is supported by substantial evidence that for countries such as the UK, the age should be 14.

"I also note with enormous disappointment that the Northern Ireland Assembly has failed to implement the committee's specific recommendation that the age here should be raised to 12 immediately, and then to 14 after three years - that was four years ago.

"I believe that implementing this measure along with the other outstanding recommendations will help create a youth justice system more fit for purpose."

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said a lack of cross-party support meant this change could not be made at present.

"The Minister of Justice supports an increase in the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12," the spokesman added.

"Research shows that non-criminal interventions are more effective with this young age group, and reducing contact with the criminal justice system at an early age has longer-term benefits.

"However, any such change would require cross-party support, and there is currently an absence of sufficient political support to implement such an increase."

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