Debate about the age limit: the death of a ten-year-old raises the question of criminal responsibility


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Age limit debate
Death of ten-year-old raises question of criminal responsibility

Despite two recent spectacular cases, homicides by children remain an absolute exception. However, according to crime statistics, the number of suspects under the age of 14 is increasing sharply for less dramatic acts such as shoplifting, property damage and insults.

A ten-year-old is found dead in a child and youth welfare facility in Upper Franconia. The case is shocking, also because investigators are again focusing on a person who is almost the same age. It is not the first case of this dimension in the recent past in which the suspects are minors. The violent death of 12-year-old Luise from Freudenberg in North Rhine-Westphalia, who died from numerous knife wounds, caused horror nationwide. Two girls, aged 12 and 13, have confessed to the crime.

But are such cases really increasing? There are reliable figures on the crime of children under criminal responsibility in the recently published police crime statistics for the past year 2022. According to this, the proportion of children in the number of suspects has increased across all crime areas. It is true that in 2022 there were more minors living in Germany than in the previous year, partly because of the admission of refugees from Ukraine.

But that alone does not explain the trend. With the increase of 35.5 percent to 93,095 suspected children (under the age of 14), the level of the previous year, which was still heavily influenced by Corona, was significantly exceeded. The number was also almost 28 percent higher than in 2019 (72,890).

Burden of Corona and inflation

When presenting the crime statistics, BKA President Holger Münch pointed out that the crimes committed by children were predominantly shoplifting, property damage, insults or minor physical harm. Münch said that economic aspects such as a lack of money in families as a result of inflation could also play a role here. Due to the immigration of refugees, there are currently many children and young people in Germany who would have experienced violence in war zones at a young age.

Another factor is stress, emphasized Münch, recalling that minors were hit particularly hard by school closures during the corona pandemic. Children must grow up without violence and in an environment “in which they can also develop and have a real chance of arriving in the meritocracy”.

With the current case from Wunsiedel, the discussion about the criminal responsibility of minors should flare up again. Children under the age of 14 are generally innocent – even in the case of a crime as serious as murder or manslaughter. Because it is assumed that they do not yet have a sufficient overview of the consequences of their actions.

Federal Minister of Justice does not want to touch the age limit

At least from Baden-Württemberg, there have already been calls from politicians to adjust criminal law. State Interior Minister Thomas Strobl and Justice Minister Marion Gentges want to review the age limit for minors in criminal law. The two CDU politicians wrote a corresponding letter to their counterparts in the federal government. In the letter, Strobl and Gentges call for the rule that children are only considered criminally responsible from the age of 14 to be reviewed. In the letter, Strobl and Gentges also refer to the case in Freudenberg.

Federal Minister of Justice Marco Buschmann recently warned in the “Bild am Sonntag”: “Any debate about adjustments to criminal law should be conducted with a cool head.” The German legal system has means beyond criminal law to react to serious acts of violence by children under the age of 14. “That goes as far as a closed home and also an accommodation in child and adolescent psychiatry,” said Buschmann.

According to Buschmann, scientific findings on child and juvenile delinquency clearly show that developing children need different treatment than adolescents or adults. He emphasized: “But immaturity does not mean that such acts have no consequences for children.” According to a spokeswoman for his ministry, the investigation into the case in Wunsiedel has not changed anything about Buschmann’s attitude.

Source:, Christoph Zeiher, Anne-Béatrice Clasmann and Kathrin Zeilmann, dpa

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