Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Parents in frame for child crime

The statistics of child crime suspects revealed in today's Belfast Telegraph make for grim reading.

Figures obtained by this newspaper show that many children have not been brought to court because they are too young.

In just over the past three years, more than 220 children under nine years of age have been questioned by police for a large number of alleged offences. These ranged from criminal damage and theft to more serious crimes including arson, and the possession of an offensive weapon.

The youngest suspect was only three, and two girls of four and a boy of six were allegedly involved or quizzed over motoring offences. In the last 12 months alone, there were 46 alleged crimes linked to children under 10.

Such details are truly shocking, but even more disturbing is the realisation that these children were obviously not receiving proper supervision from parents or guardians.

Lord Morrow, chairman of the Justice Committee at Stormont, has expressed his shock and has claimed that these statistics add up to "child neglect in its rawest form". He also claims that there is a clear issue of appropriate parenting and supervision.

He is right to take up these matters in the Assembly, against a background where the criminal age of responsibility in Northern Ireland might be raised from under nine years to 12. This would bring us in line with the Irish Republic and Scotland, although the current figure in Northern Ireland is still similar to those in England and Wales.

Some people argue that raising the minimum age to 12 would allow many more young suspects to go free, while others claim that the current figure here remains too low.

It is clear, however, that firm steps must be taken to ensure that parents and guardians behave properly with regard to children in their care. In many cases it is the carers who should be in the courts rather than the children.

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