Criminal Prosecution of Children in Nz

Today, is a sad day for the children of New Zealand. It marks the day where the Children Young Persons and Their Families (Youth Court Orders and Jurisdiction) Act comes into effect, lowering the age of criminal prosecution to cover 12 and 13-year-old New Zealand children for serious offences. Currently children aged under 14 can only be prosecuted for murder or manslaughter.

This development goes against the grain of our youth justice system, the science regarding cognitive development and our international juvenile justice obligations. Offending by children is almost always a product of the social and familial environment that surrounds them. In addition, these children have not reached the stage in their development where they should be held fully culpable for their actions – their brains are still developing and are particularly vulnerable to negative influences.

Youth offending has not increased in the past 10 years and 10-13-year-olds have the lowest rates of apprehension, there is little evidence to suggest that increasing the jurisdiction of the Youth Court to include 12-13 year-olds will have a positive impact on youth offending. Indeed, the Family Court already has a range of options specifically created to rehabilitate child offenders including assistance for the children and their families, including placing the child in the care of the state where such an intervention is appropriate.

Extending the criminal jurisdiction to cover 12 and 13-year-olds may also result in these children mixing with older and more mature offenders, thereby placing them at risk of physical or sexual abuse and negative peer influence at a young age.