SCOTLAND’S top children’s rights professional has hit out at the country’s “woefully low” age of criminal responsibility.
Children’s commissioner Tam Baillie has slated Scotland’s age of responsibility – which allows children as young as eight to be punished for criminal acts.
The age is the youngest of any country in the Europe Union, leading campaigners to claim that it allows children to be branded as criminals.
Campaigners are hoping to raise the age to 12, saying that children “should not face criminal stigma.”
But their efforts are opposed by many, including the Scottish Conservatives, who support the option to pursue youngsters involved in serious crime.
It recently emerged that children under the age of 10 were responsible for more than 3,600 crimes across Scotland over a three year period.
Baillie has called for the higher age of responsibility in a submission to the joint committee on human rights inquiry into the UK’s compliance with the United Nations Convention.
He said that the age of responsibility should be raised “as a matter of urgency.”
He went on to claim that the Scottish government’s failure to act is at odds with its report on ways to prevent crime by young offenders, which says that labelling young people as criminals is “harmful.”
He added: “Scotland’s low age of criminal responsibility tarnishes Scotland’s approach to children.
“We now know that a child’s brain continues to develop into early adulthood and we have a responsibility to act in children’s best interests and maximise their development throughout their childhood.
“We also know from research that labelling children at a young age has a harmful effect; it leads to stigmatisation and reinforces negative behaviour.
“We already have the Children’s Hearings System, which can deal with those who are exhibiting troublesome behaviour without the need to criminalise them.”
Alison Todd, chief executive of Children 1st, a group campaigning to raise the age, said: “Children who commit crimes very often have complex and difficult childhoods, and instead of being labelled as criminals they and their families need support to address the causes of their behaviour and prevent further offending.
“We believe this matter should receive further discussion in the current session of the Scottish parliament.
A Scottish government spokeswoman said: “Children age 8-11 facing allegations of having committed an offence can be dealt with by the Children’s hearing System, which takes an approach centred on the child’s welfare and best interests.
“The age of criminal responsibility remains under active consideration and the policy, legislative and procedural implications of a change in Scotland are complex.