Justice Ministry may push to lower age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 for 'serious' crimes


In recent weeks, children under the age of 15 have been implicated in the murders of an elderly woman and the rape and murder of a young girl. The Minister of Justice, Pavel Nemec, is now considering pushing to lower the age of legal responsibility from 15 to 12 for particularly serious crimes like murder.

Officials from the justice ministry have been meeting with police, child psychologists and social workers in order to produce an optimal draft amendment to the Criminal Code to deal with punishment for juvenile offenders.

This weekend, Justice Minister Pavel Nemec told Czech Radio it was uncertain when changes to the Criminal Code could be introduced but acknowledged that lowering the age of criminal responsibility would place additional costs on the prison system.

Mr Nemec says any changes would not require "billions of crowns" as facilities for underage offenders already operate under the auspices of the Ministry of Education.

Pavel Nemec, photo: CTK
Over the past three years, not only has the proportion of crimes committed by young offenders steadily increased but the nature of the crimes has become more serious. In the first six months of this year, children under the age of 15 were implicated in 91 assaults and seven cases of rape, according to the Czech police.

Those statistics don't include two grisly murders by young offenders solved in recent weeks.

This August, six boys under the age of 15 — the youngest of them only 11 years old — robbed and killed an elderly woman at her home. She was stabbed repeatedly with a pair of scissors and died in hospital five days later.

Last week, a 14-year-old boy confessed to the rape and murder in January of his younger classmate after DNA samples linked him to the crime.

These youth offenders will likely be placed in in-house care or in psychiatric facilities under close supervision.

Many psychologists and social workers argue that allowing such children to be charged as adults and placed into prison or juvenile detention would not be an effective deterrent. Neither would it help the children get the counselling they need to re-enter society.

Psychologist Jeronym Klimes:

"Any murder which is done by youths is starting this discussion about the legal age of responsibility. Okay, you can separate those children within the foster care houses or into prisons for youths, but it will be a [specialised] 'high school' for criminal behaviour."

France recently lowered the criminal age for criminal liability from 15 to 13. In Greece and the Netherlands, it has been lower to 12. Whatever changes are made to the Czech Criminal Code, there is general consensus here that imposing harsher punishments on young offenders will solve little if the societal roots of the problem are not also addressed.