Kids can understand morality, but can they control their actions?
It’s rare for young children to kill. But there are exceptions. Last October, an 8-year-old boy in Alabama strangled a toddler to death. That same month, an 11-year-old in Tennessee shot and killed another child after an argument over puppies.
Between 1980 and 2008, children under age 14 made just up 0.5% of homicide offenders, according to data (pdf) from the US Department of Justice. When children do take the lives of others, society must face a question no one wants to confront: At what age can children be held responsible for their actions?
Countries around the world vary widely in their answers. In England and Australia, the minimum age is 10. In Belgium, the bar is set at age 18. The United States allows its states to decide, which means children can face criminal charges at a wide variety of different ages, ranging from seven (Oklahoma) to 15 years (New Mexico). The law tends to consider children’s competence to stand trial and their ability to make decisions when setting minimum ages. But it often overlooks scientific research in defining these limits.
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