OPINION: How should criminal kids be tackled?

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Arson, assault, shoplifting and even rape.

No, these aren’t crimes committed by grown adults facing lengthy prison sentences - they are some of the 324 crimes who have been committed by children between 2011 and 2015.

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Crimes by children too young to prosecute more than double in South Yorkshire

And that doesn’t mean young people who are just under 18. These are all reports of crimes committed by children aged under 10 years old in South Yorkshire.

In fact, The Star today can exclusively reveal that the number of children - children who are too young to be legally prosecuted - committing criminal acts in our region has risen from 46 in 2011 to 124 in 2015.

That’s a staggering 169 per cent surge in child criminality in five years.

But why is this happening, and what can we do to stop it?

‘No child is born a criminal’, says John Egan, the charity’s director of children’s services across Yorkshire.

It’s tempting to look down on these criminal kids as some gaggle of unruly tearaways.

While any crime must be condemned, it’s clearly necessary to look at the root cause of such tragically young offending.

Children are incredibly impressionable and will pick up criminality if they are exposed to it first hand.

And the fact is, not every child has the luxury of growing up in a perfect home with two doting, squeaky clean parents.

Can more be done by social services, police, the council and the education system to protect children from such harmful environments? Where do you draw the line - do you remove children from the care of criminal parents, or simply try to educate youngsters in direct contradiction to what they are learning in their home environment?

There is a real societal issue at heart, too. A child under the age of 10 committing a sickening crime like rape is indefensible, no matter the causes. Is it time to look at removing the minimum age of criminality in specific cases, or at least creating a system by which such young offenders are rehabilitated, like a very-young-offenders institute? Or should the parents be held responsible by proxy for failing to raise their children not to commit arson or rape?

There is no easy answer, but this is a very worrying issue that demands action in response from those in authority, like the council, government, police and education system.

What action? That’s the key question.

What do you think? Tweet us at @Sheffieldstar and let us know your views.