Biologically, a child may be defined as any individual at any of the stages between birth and puberty. The law recognizes children as minors and acknowledges the vulnerable position such individuals are in the society (Archard, 2015). Most countries identify juveniles as children between the ages of birth to eighteen years old. The definition of a child or children corresponds to the cultures of many communities that a child is anyone who is yet to or has just attained the age of puberty.
In recognition of children as vulnerable and protected members of society, various theories and principles have been brought forward to argue on the culpability of children in the event of a crime (Flavell, Miller, & Miller, 2016). Piaget’s theory explains that an individual develops cognitively by reorganizing their mental process based on biological maturation and experience. Piaget observed that as a child grows, understanding of the world then rearranges according to the differences between their model and actual experiences. Such a theory suggests that any individual should be culpable of any given crime they commit. However, various documented weaknesses of the approach prevent it from being widely accepted as the standard.
Piaget’s theory implies sharp stages that denote significant cognitive growth as opposed to continuous development, which is reflective of actual cognitive growth models. It is the realization that cognitive growth, hence the discerning of right and wrong, may vary, reflecting the different growth patterns of individuals (Flavell, Miller, & Miller, 2016). The reason that the legal maturation age by law is eighteen years old is to adequately provide for cognitive growth and parental and other forms of guidance before an individual can take legal responsibility for their actions.
The nurture theory argues in favor of children’s rights protection. The nurture theory suggests that all individuals, while young, are naturally innocent and devoid of any wrongdoing. The opinion further asserts that it is the environment that a child is exposed to that determines most of the traits and actions of the child (Flavell, Miller, & Miller, 2016). This theory is widely accepted and is used as the basis for the recognition of children’s rights globally.
Phillipe Aries, a French historian, suggested that in medieval Europe, childhood was not recognized and children were considered adults as soon as they were capable of living by themselves. Aries’ work suggests that youth is a progressive ideology that only existed since the seventeenth century (Archard, 2015). His work has however been criticized as based on portraits where children donned adult clothes. Other researchers have widely discredited his assertions as based on circumstantial evidence.
Though most countries have local laws that safeguard the rights of children, the United Nations Children Education Fund and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Children have laid out statutory requirements that are the benchmarks for all children’s rights laws. In addition to the primary human rights, children have the right to physical activity, the freedom from discrimination on any basis and the right to have their grievances and opinions heard (Carroll, 2012). There is also a clause that mandates the law and all functions of the government to act in the best interests of the child in any given circumstance; this is the basis upon which states strive to provide education and outlaw child labor in most jurisdictions.
Although the need to act in the best interests of a minor, various crimes committed by children has raised concern as to whether the law is too lenient on juvenile offenders. For instance, in the case of the murder of James Patrick Bulger, a two-year-old minor was killed by two ten-year-old boys (Carroll, 2012). The media and the general public consensus was that the two children should have served the maximum legal sentence due to the horrific crime they had committed. The Sun media company carried out an online petition to have the two suspects receive the maximum sentence.
- Archard, D. (2015). Children: rights and childhood. New York: Taylor & Francis Group.
- Boyden, J., & Hudson, A. (2010). Children: rights and responsibilities. Leverett: Rector Press.
- Carroll, J. (2012). Do children have rights? Farmington Hills: Greenhaven Press.
- Flavell, J. H., Miller, P. H., & Miller, S. A. (2016). Cognitive development. Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.