We have recently touched on the plight of children in Zambia. Natural questions arise as to why successive governments have performed poorly in this area, especially with respect to street children, child labour and child abuse and trafficking. These issues appear to signal the little value we place on our children, never mind that we appear to be setting records with our polygamous behaviour. There are certainly many issues that require a major rethink when it comes to how we treat children. Top of these in my view is the issue of "age of criminal responsibility" or "criminal liability".
Under Section 14.1 of the Penal Code, Part I, Chapter 87 of the Laws of Zambia a person younger above 8 years old is criminally responsible for his/her actions or omissions. This is partially qualified by the fact that a person under the age of 12 years is not criminally responsible for an act or omission, unless it is proved that at the time of committing the act or making the omission s/he had capacity to know that he ought not to do the act or make the omission. There is an urgent need to increase the minimal age of criminal responsibility, which is far to low compared to many countries. Needless to this law is a relic of colonialism, and although England raised its position to 10 years in 1963, with debate raging to increase it further.
Ages of Criminal ResponsibilityThe other problem is the difficulty in establishing the real age of the child accused of or having infringed the penal law, since the age claimed by children does not always correspond to the reality or because they sometimes are not aware of it. The difficulty in establishing ages of children coming into conflict with the law is a result of many children whose birth has not been registered.
7 - Switzerland, Nigeria, S Africa
8 - Scotland, Sri Lanka, Zambia
10 - England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Australia, New Zealand
12 - The Netherlands, Canada, Greece, Turkey
13 - France
14 - Italy, Germany, Bulgaria, Romania, China
15 - Denmark, Sweden, Norway, New York (US)
16 - Spain, Japan, Texas (US), Poland
18 - Belgium, Luxembourg, most US states
I am hoping to return to these issues as part of the on-going series on Rethinking Justice, under the thorny issue of "Juvenile Justice".