Don't be soft on young offenders

LAST year police recorded 3,000 crimes committed by children under 10.

Monday, 3rd September 2007, 9:42 am
Updated Wednesday, 5th September 2007, 12:06 pm

We’re not talking about nicking sweets from shops or smashing the odd window either.

These 3,000 crimes included arson, sex attacks and robbery.

The worrying figures were revealed by a BBC investigation and prompted a moral debate this week about our youngsters and the punishments meted out to them.

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The reactions were predictable. For every realist calling for kids to be held to account, there’s a do-gooder calling for copious amounts of cotton wool and the criminal age of responsibility to be raised to 14.

After listening to the fall-out from the BBC investigation I wonder whether anyone has thought about the ordinary people whose lives are blighted by kids as young as 10.

It doesn’t matter if the feral gang hanging outside your door is old enough to vote or barely out of nursery - anti social behaviour is intimidating and upsetting. It doesn’t matter to victims of crime whether the tearaway who broke into their car and nicked their stereo is nine or 19. Crime is painful, even if it doesn’t hurt the perpetrator.

Last year Derbyshire Police recorded about 100 crimes committed by children under 10 including theft and fraud.

But don’t think for a minute these children have been held to account. As these little terrors are under the age of criminal responsibility their actions go unpunished.

Surely that isn’t right. Parents have a duty to their kids and must be held accountable to some extent.

Treating young offenders with kid gloves doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t teach young people the difference between right and wrong and doesn’t expose them to any kind of deterrent or brush with our legal system.

I’m not saying children should be sent for trial at the Old Bailey, simply that our police need more power to intervene and punish.

It’s all too easy to look the other way or presume kids will grow out of their naughty, mischievous ways. But with youth crime soaring and more youngsters killing each other something needs to be done to stamp out criminality in its infancy.

Across America parents can be sued for the actions of their children and in a number of states parents can even be prosecuted for ‘neglectful’ parenting.

And the tough, no nonsense approach to youth crime doesn’t stop there. Parents can even be held financially responsible for their children’s actions.

If there’s one way to hit carefree parents hard - it’s in the pocket.

The British system needs an urgent overhaul. Taking a child to a police station and telling them they’ve done wrong isn’t enough to stop some of these kids in their tracks.

If it was we wouldn’t have thousands of kids mugging each other at school or children shooting each other dead.

Every day we send our kids out into the world hoping and praying they’ll be safe. We have a duty as a nation to protect our children, not least from each other.

We live in changing times and we shouldn’t be afraid to change our archaic laws.

We must wake up to the fact that many children under 10 often know what they’re doing. Any law-abiding parent who wants the best for their children will surely agree.