Belfast Telegraph

Over 1,000 Northern Ireland youngster criminals - 'entirely unacceptable,' says child welfare group

By Michael Sheils McNamee

A leading expert group on child welfare has said it is "entirely unacceptable" children just out of primary school are being burdened with criminal records.

It comes after new figures showed more than 1,000 children in Northern Ireland received criminal convictions in the past five years.

Include Youth - an organisation focused on the rights of young people, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds - said the current age of 10 for criminal responsibility was too young.

"It is entirely unacceptable that children who have just left primary education are being burdened with criminal records," said the organisation's spokeswoman on youth justice Dr Paula Rodgers.

“We have repeatedly called for the age of criminal responsibility to be increased from 10 years of age to 14 years.

“This is an issue that has been kept on the agenda by the Raise the Age Campaign spearheaded by Include Youth.

“Further to this  numerous calls have been made by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child for it to be increased. We, as a society, can no longer ignore the body of evidence and the call from professionals and those who work with children to raise the age of criminal responsibility."

She added there were better outcomes than "criminalising children".

Figures obtained by the BBC showed a total of 1,085 criminal convictions of children (defined as being under 18) in the past five years, with the youngest convicted just 12 years old.

More than a quarter of these came in 2015, when 279 children were convicted.

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