Psychology Wiki

Assessment | Biopsychology | Comparative | Cognitive | Developmental | Language | Individual differences | Personality | Philosophy | Social |
Methods | Statistics | Clinical | Educational | Industrial | Professional items | World psychology |

Other fields of psychology: AI · Computer · Consulting · Consumer · Engineering · Environmental · Forensic · Military · Sport · Transpersonal · Index

This article needs rewriting to enhance its relevance to psychologists..
Please help to improve this page yourself if you can..

Criminal responsibility is the issue of whether a defendents state of mind at the time of a crime is sufficiently stable for them to be regarded as accountable for their own actions.

The defense of infancy is a form of defense known as an excuse so that defendants falling within the definition of an "infant" are excluded from criminal liability for their actions, if at the relevant time, they had not reached an age of criminal responsibility. After reaching the initial age, there may be levels of responsibility dictated by age and the type of offense allegedly committed.

The age of criminal responsibility

Governments enact laws to label certain types of activity as wrongful or illegal. Behavior of a more antisocial nature can be stigmatized in a more positive way to show society's disapproval through the use of the word criminal. In this context, laws tend to use the phrase, "age of criminal responsibility" in two different ways:

  1. As a definition of the process for dealing with an alleged offender, the range of ages specifies the exemption of a child from the adult system of prosecution and punishment. Most states develop special juvenile justice systems in parallel to the adult criminal justice system. Here, the hearings are essentially welfare-based and deal with children as in need of compulsory measures of treatment and/or care. Children are diverted into this system when they have committed what would have been an offense in an adult.
  2. As the physical capacity of a child to commit a crime. Hence, children are deemed incapable of committing some sexual or other acts requiring abilities of a more mature quality.

Thus, each state is considering whether any given child has committed an offense, and given that answer, what the most appropriate measures would be for dealing with a child who has done what this child did. It is noted that, in some states, a link is made between infancy as a defense and defenses that diminish responsibility on the ground of a mental illness. Distinctions between children, young offenders, juveniles, etc. are used to denote matching levels of incapacity. The majority view is that this linkage is not constructive in that it implies that children are in some way mentally defective whereas they merely lack the judgment that comes with age and experience.

File:Kersnovskaya Underaged 5 24.jpg

Eufrosinia Kersnovskaya. Young prisoners in the Soviet Gulag. Older girl teaches others how to survive.


This is an aspect of the public policy of parens patriae. In the criminal law, each state will consider the nature of its own society and the available evidence of the age at which antisocial behavior begins to manifest itself. Some societies will have qualities of indulgence toward the young and inexperienced, and will not wish them to be exposed to the criminal law system before all other avenues of response have been exhausted. Hence, some states have a policy of doli incapax (i.e. incapable of wrong) and exclude liability for all acts and omissions that would otherwise have been criminal up to a specified age.[1] Hence, no matter what the infant may have done, there cannot be a criminal prosecution. However, although no criminal liability is inferred, other aspects of law may be applied. For example, in Nordic countries, an offence by a person under 15 years of age is considered mostly a symptom of problems in child's development. This will cause the social authorities to take appropriate administrative measures to secure the development of the child. Such measures may range from counselling to placement at special care unit. Being non-judicial, the measures are not dependent on the severity of the offence committed but on the overall circumstances of the child.

The policy of treating minors as incapable of committing crimes does not necessarily reflect modern sensibilities. Thus, if the rationale of the excuse is that children below a certain age lack the capacity to form the mens rea of an offense, this may no longer be a sustainable argument. Indeed, given the different speeds at which people may develop both physically and intellectually, any form of explicit age limit may be arbitrary and irrational. Yet, the sense that children do not deserve to be exposed to criminal punishment in the same way as adults remains strong. Children have not had experience of life, nor do they have the same mental and intellectual capacities as adults. Hence, it might be considered unfair to treat young children in the same way as adults.

In Scotland the age of responsibility is eight years, In England and Wales and Northern Ireland the age of responsibility is ten years and in the Netherlands and Canada, the age of responsibility is twelve years. Sweden, Finland, Denmark, and Norway all set the age at fifteen years. In most of the US states, the age varies between states but is normally not lower than 7 years. In Belgium, it is eighteen years. As the treaty parties of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court could not agree on a minimum age for criminal responsibility, they chose to solve the question procedurally and excluded the jurisdiction of the Court for persons under 18 years.

Some states refuse to set a fixed minimum age, but leave discretion to prosecutors to argue or the judges to rule on whether the child or adolescent ("juvenile") defendant understood that what was being done was wrong. If the defendant did not understand the difference between right and wrong, it may not be considered appropriate to treat such a person as culpable. Alternatively, the lack of real fault in the offender can be recognized by rulings that dispense mitigated criminal sentences or address more practical matters of parental responsibility by adjusting the rights of parents to unsupervised custody, or by separate criminal proceedings against the parents for breach of their duties as parents.

Ages of criminal responsibility by country

The following are the minimum ages at which children may be charged with a criminal offence.

Country Age Reference Comments/Information/Notes
Template:Country data Mexico 6-12 Most states 11 or 12 years; age 11 for federal crimes.
Template:Country data United States 6-12 [2] Age determined by each state; the minimum age is 6 (North Carolina)[2],[3] however only 15 states have set minimum ages,[2] which range from 6 to 12 years. States without statutory minimum ages rely on common law, which means that 7[4] is the minimum age in most states; for federal crimes the age has been set at 10.
Template:Country data India 7
Template:Country data Myanmar 7
Template:Country data Nigeria 7
Template:Country data Pakistan 7
Template:Country data Singapore 7
Template:Country data South Africa 7
Template:Country data Sudan 7
Template:Country data Tanzania 7
Template:Country data Thailand 7
Template:Country data Indonesia 8
Template:Country data Kenya 8
Template:Country data Scotland
(UK)|| 8 || [5]  || There are plans to increase it to 12.[6][7]
Template:Country data Bangladesh 9
Template:Country data Ethiopia 9
Template:Country data Iran 9-15 Age 9 for girls, 15 for boys
Template:Country data Switzerland 10
Template:Country data Nepal 10
Template:Country data Australia 10 [8] Age of criminal responsibility in Australia
Presumption of incapacity of committing crime: 14.[8]
[[Image:Template:Country flag alias England|22x20px|Template:Country alias England]] [[Image:Template:Country flag alias Wales|22x20px|Template:Country alias Wales]] England and Wales (UK) 10 [9][10]
Northern Ireland (UK) 10 [11]
Template:Country data Ukraine 14
Template:Country data Turkey 11
Template:Country data Canada 12 [12]
Template:Country data Ireland 12 [13]
Template:Country data Israel 12
Template:Country data South Korea 12
Template:Country data Morocco 12
Template:Country data Uganda 12
Template:Country data Algeria 13
Template:Country flag2 14
Template:Country data China 14 Absolute minimum for acts that constitute the following crimes: homicide, wounding resulting in death, rape, robbery, arson, explosion, planting of toxic substances and trafficking in dangerous drugs. The minimum age for other crimes are 16. In Hong Kong, the minimum age is 7 and in Macau, 16
Template:Country data Estonia 14
Template:Country data Germany 14 [14]
Template:Country data Hungary 14
Template:Country data Italy 14
Template:Country data Japan 12 [15]
Template:Country data New Zealand 14 Children in New Zealand can be charged with murder or manslaughter or minor traffic offences from age 10. All other offences cannot be charged under 14.
Template:Country data Romania 14
Template:Country data Russia 11
Template:Country data Slovenia 14
Template:Country data Spain 14 [16]
Template:Country data Vietnam 14
Template:Country data Uzbekistan 15
Template:Country data Egypt 15
Template:Country data Finland 15 [17]
Template:Country data Denmark 15 It is about to be lowered to 14 [18]
Template:Country data Norway 15 [19]
Template:Country data Sweden 15
Template:Country data Iceland 15
Template:Country data Czech Republic 15 [20]
Template:Country data Philippines 15 The child in conflict with the law may be held liable if he or she is more than 15 years of age if he or she acted with discernment.
Template:Country data Portugal 16
Template:Country data Argentina 18
Template:Country data France 17
Template:Country data Poland 17 Official age of criminal responsibility; from age 12, children's actions are subject to juvenile legal proceedings.
Template:Country data Brazil 18 Official age of criminal responsibility; from age 12, children's actions are subject to juvenile legal proceedings.
Template:Country data Colombia 18 Official age of criminal responsibility; from age 12, children's actions are subject to juvenile legal proceedings.
International Criminal Court 18 [21]
Template:Country data Peru 18 Official age of criminal responsibility; from age 12, children's actions are subject to juvenile legal proceedings.
Template:Country data Belgium 18
Template:Country data Democratic Republic of the Congo 18

See also


  1. Dalby JT. (1985). Criminal liability in children. Canadian Journal of Criminology 27: 137–145.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Children in the US Justice System. Amnesty International USA).
  3. Saving a generation of young people by Dr Don Brash, Justice, 2005
  4. Old enough to be a criminal?. UNICEF United Nations Children's Fund).
  5. The Children's Hearings System of the Scottish Governments official website
  6. "Age of criminal responsibility will raise to 12", Scotland on Sunday, accessed 23 April 2009
  7. "Can children be criminals?", BBC, accessed 16 June 2009
  8. 8.0 8.1 Ages of criminal responsibility in Australian jurisdictions, Australian Governments official website
  9. The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (23 & 24 Geo.5 c.12), section 50; as amended by The Children and Young Persons Act 1963 (c.37), section 16(1) [1]
  10. Young offenders section of the UK Governments official website
  11. Report on the Draft Justice (NI) Bill of the Northern Ireland Assembly's official website
  12. Criminal Code of Canada, s. 13; may received reduced sentencing under the Youth Criminal Justice Act until age 18.
  13. Children and the criminal justice system in Ireland, Irish Government official website
  14. StGB §19
  15. Japanese Penal Code (Act No.45 of 1907), article 41 [2]
  16. [ Ley Orgánica 5/2000, de 12 de enero, reguladora de la responsabilidad penal de los menores


  17. Penal Code 3:1 § (39/1889, as changed by 515/2003). Retrieved 10-31-2007.
  18. Teen gangsters in bullet-proof vests, The Copenhagen Post, October 5, 2009
  19. Penal Code Almindelig borgerlig Straffelov (Straffeloven) § 46 (changed of law 12 Jun 1987 nr. 51). Retrieved 19/7 - 2007.
  21. Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Article 26.
  • Maher, Gerry. "Age and Criminal Responsibility. 2005 Vol 2. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. 493 [3]
  • CRC Country Reports (1992-1996); Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Delinquency in Central and Eastern Europe, 1995; United Nations, Implementation of UN Mandates on Juvenile Justice in ESCAP, 1994; Geert Cappelaere, Children's Rights Centre, University of Gent, Belgium.
This page uses Creative Commons Licensed content from Wikipedia (view authors).