The purpose of these laws is to determine what age a child is capable of exhibiting antisocial behavior on his or her own. The very young are given indulgence in the criminal system, as because of their innocence, many governments feel that they should not be exposed to the adult world of criminal law and the judicial system. Child defendants are often declared doli incapax, which means incapable of wrong, and as such are not held liable for their criminal acts.
Modern thinking does not always agree with this type of law for children as defendants. Modern thinkers often feel that today’s children are not as innocent as the children of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Such people feel that children should be held accountable for their actions. On the other hand, many people believe that children should not be prosecuted in the same manner as adults. While they may be liable for their actions, they should be treated gently when in court as defendants.
The laws that apply to the age of criminal responsibility can be interpreted in two ways. Some governments interpret these laws to mean that children cannot be held accountable as defendants in an adult judicial system. These governments will create special justice systems specifically for juveniles. Other governments interpret these laws to mean that a child is incapable of knowingly committing a crime, and thus cannot be held responsible for the offenses they commit. Depending on how a state interprets the laws will determine how they try children in their judicial system. Most states have a juvenile judicial system in place.
The concept of age of criminal responsibility is discussed in the UNICEF Convention on the Rights of the Child. This convention said that all nations had to establish a minimum age for accountability. Children below that age cannot become defendants in an adult judicial system. The age varies greatly among different countries. One problem is that many countries set the age far too low, which means that young children can still be tried as an adult.
The defense of infancy laws is extremely important. Children should be held accountable when the commit a criminal offense, but the judicial system needs to understand that children can be easily influenced by adults to do wrong. When this occurs, the child should not be held accountable for the action, but rather the adult. This is the purpose for the laws, to protect the exploitation of children from adults who want to use them to commit crimes. While the age may still be too low in some states, the defense of infancy laws is very important.