Children are too young at the age of twelve or 13 to be prosecuted for a crime. The legislature at least assumes that people under the age of 14 do not yet have the spiritual and moral maturity to be able to see the injustice of an act. According to the Criminal Code and in addition to the Juvenile Court Act, which has existed for exactly one hundred years, it is not possible to hold them criminally responsible.

Eva Schläfer

Editor in the "Life" section of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

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In the past, when children under the age of 14 committed a crime, there were regular calls for a lowering of the age of criminal responsibility. In 2019, for example, the Berlin CDU did this together with the German Police Union, after an eighteen-year-old was raped in Mülheim an der Ruhr by two twelve-year-old boys, among others. The goal was not to "put children in jail," but to use the authority of judges, a union representative said at the time.

No reason for a new debate

Roman Poseck, since last year Hessian Minister of Justice, previously President of the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt, does not rule out that the debate could be revived now. "But I have a very clear position: The current case offers no reason to introduce a new criminal responsibility limit. Criminal responsibility at the age of 14 has proven its worth," he says. Criminal law is the wrong approach for this age group; youth welfare law also offers the possibility of hearing by judges. "One can think about whether a contact between criminals and the judiciary should be established more quickly – but within the framework of youth welfare law." Poseck also points out that serious crimes would not be prevented by a different threshold of criminal responsibility.

Theresia Höynck, Professor of Child and Youth Law at the Institute for Social Work at the University of Kassel, also fails to see that Freudenberg's act raises new arguments for changing the age limit. In the recent Bundestag elections, only the far right had the demand for a reduction in its programmes; otherwise, however, "reason has prevailed that the levers in dealing with problematic young people lie elsewhere." The age limit, which, like any age limit, has a certain arbitrary element, she nevertheless considers appropriate.

Höynck, whose research projects focus on children and young people as perpetrators and victims, does not note that they are more mature today than in the past. Even though they emulate young adults in their appearance and appearance, they are just as insecure, emotional, vulnerable and manipulable as they were 50 years ago.