Friday, 17 August 2018

CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY OF A CHILD

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Recently, there was a story in the news of a twelve year old male student in junior secondary school who allegedly tried to poison his eleven year old female classmate for displacing him from his customary “first position”. The male student allegedly poured sulphuric acid and ethanol into the girl’s water bottle out of envy.

Since the incident was reported in the news, people have been curious as to whether a child can be charged with a criminal offence under the law considering the age and if a child is criminal responsible for a crime committed by him/her under the law.

Under the various laws, a child is recognized as any person who is under the age of eighteen years. When we speak of criminal responsibility, we refer to the liability of a person to be punished for an offence committed by him.

Under the law, a person can only be deemed to be criminally responsible for an offence he/she committed if there is a concurrence of the “prohibited act or prohibited omission” and the “mental state to do that prohibited act”. A wrong act alone is not sufficient grounds for criminal liability, there must be a guilty mind.

A child of a certain age is deemed incapable of forming the requisite mental state or guilty mind to commit a crime, consequently, children of certain ages are deemed incapable of committing crimes. When a child whom the law considers incapable of committing an offence does an act which amounts to a criminal offence, he will not be criminally responsible for his wrong act and would not be liable to punishment under the law.
The age of a child determines if the child will be criminally responsible for a criminal act or omission. If the child in question is under the age of seven years, he is not criminally responsible. It is immaterial that the child knew that the act is wrong, or that he ought not to do the act or make the omission. The Criminal Code Act provides that ‘a person under the age of seven years is not criminally responsible for any act or omission’.
When a child is under twelve years of age, the position of the law on criminal responsibility is different. Generally, a child of seven years and above, but under twelve years of age is not criminally responsible for any act or omission which the law declares to be an offence, however, if it is established that the child at the time of doing the prohibited act or making the prohibited omission had the capacity to know that he ought not to do the act or make the omission, then such a child may be criminally responsible for the offence committed by him.

Criminal liability of a child of seven years of age but below twelve years of age is hinged on knowledge that such an act or omission is prohibited or that it is wrong. Thus, the criminal responsibility of a child under twelve years of age is dependent on if the child knew at the time of doing that act or making the omission that he ought not to have done such an act or made such an omission.

The age of criminal responsibility of a child in sexual offences which are constituted by having “carnal knowledge” such as rape and defilement is specially provided for under the law.

It is the law that a child under the age of twelve years is incapable of having carnal knowledge of a person. The law provides that “a male person under the age of twelve years is presumed to be incapable of having carnal knowledge”. This presumption is irrebuttable in law. A child under twelve years is seen as lacking the capacity to have carnal knowledge of a person, thus, he cannot be liable for rape or defilement even if there is evidence that he did rape or define a female.

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