What parental punishment made you better

When children commit crimes

Children who torture, murder, or rape others are a hot topic. Also because under 14 years of age in Germany, according to the law, you are not culpable and therefore cannot be convicted under criminal law. After it became known that three 14-year-olds and two twelve-year-olds allegedly raped a woman in Mülheim an der Ruhr, some are now calling for the age of criminal responsibility to be reduced. But can that be a way? Do children in Germany who have committed criminal offenses really get away with it at the moment without any consequences? What happens to young offenders who are already of criminal age?

Offenders under 14 years of age

According to Section 19 of the Criminal Code, anyone who has not yet reached the age of 14 is not responsible in Germany per se. This means that the question of whether a person could be guilty in individual cases is not even asked. However, the exclusion of criminal measures does not mean that offenders under the age of 14 have no consequences whatsoever.

Under civil law, under 14-year-olds can be held liable and have to pay compensation for pain and suffering because of their act. Because in civil law, which regulates legal relationships between people, the age limits are staggered differently. From the age of seven, a child may have to be held liable for damage caused by him. Namely, if it could understand at the time of the crime that it was behaving in a damaging manner. If the child cannot be held responsible, the parents may be held liable. They are liable if they have violated their duty of supervision. In the case of the alleged rape of Mülheim, for example, this could mean that they have to pay the victim's treatment and therapy costs.

In addition, in the context of child and youth care, measures and support for upbringing can be ordered under the supervision of the youth welfare office. It is also possible under certain conditions that the parents' custody of the child who has committed a criminal offense is withdrawn and that the child is placed in a foster family or in a home. If an expert determines that there is a mental disorder, the judge can order placement in a child and adolescent psychiatry in severe cases. This would be a court-ordered deprivation of liberty - even if the goal here is by no means punishment, but therapy for the minor concerned.

Minor offenders aged 14 and over

Adolescents from the age of 14 are generally trusted by the legislature to oversee the consequences of their actions to such an extent that they have to take responsibility under criminal law - however, not according to general criminal law, but according to the milder youth criminal law. The educational goal continues to be in the foreground. In this context, prison sentences are also possible, but they are significantly lower than for adults.

In addition or instead, educational measures such as social hours and security measures can be ordered: in the case of serious sexual offenses, for example, safe custody. Juvenile criminal law is applied to persons up to the age of 17, in case of doubt also up to the age of 21. The possibilities of a civil law conviction and of child and youth care measures are of course still available for juveniles who are criminally responsible.

Does it make sense to be of criminal responsibility from 14 years of age?

The age limit of 14 years is not exactly scientifically justified, but it is a legal policy stipulation by the legislature. In other countries, children and adolescents are sometimes considered to be guilty sooner (in Great Britain at the age of ten) or later (in Portugal only at age 16). The United Nations recommend that the minimum age for criminal responsibility should not be set below the age of 12.

Anyone who calls for a lowering of the age of criminal consent should consider a few things: Regardless of where this limit actually lies, there will always be cases that lead to results that parts of the public find unfair. It is also controversial whether greater criminalization is suitable for reducing the number of criminal offenses and whether the "locking up" of young people is beneficial for the perpetrators or for society.