Since biblical times, children have been mentioned and admonished about social transgressions. The first man and woman, according to the Christian Holy Bible suggest that Adam and Eve, both children of God, were in trouble from the outset; the consequences were dire with no "out" such as rehabilitation. Today, of course, we see that rehabilitation is the primary focus for children's behaviors. Further, social attitudes toward children differ around the world in various cultures. These attitudes have changed over time, of course. The purpose of this paper is to detail differences in perception of children throughout history, with a particular emphasis in the periods between 1824-1960 and, in contrast the "modern" period after 1960.
The age at which children are considered responsible for their own actions (e.g., marriage, voting, etc.) has also changed over time, and this is reflected in the way they are treated in courts of law. In Roman times, children were regarded as not culpable for crimes, a position later adopted by the Church. In the nineteenth century, children younger than seven years old were believed incapable of crime. Children from the age of seven forward were considered responsible for their actions. Therefore, they could face criminal charges, be sent to adult prison, and be punished like adults by whipping, branding or hanging (Rank, 2010).
Philippe Aries and Lloyd De Mause provided current accounts of childhood experiences in Centuries of Childhood, and The History of Childhood respectfully. Both historians provided an arguably progressive approach to history, and concluded that the treatment of children by their parents and society have improved considerably throughout the centuries. Aries and De Mause (2010, pg. 17) suggest that "The history of childhood is a nightmare from which we have only recently begun to awaken" given that "The further back in history one goes, the lower the level of child care, and the more likely children are to be killed, abandoned, beaten, terrorized, and sexually abused."
While 25 countries around the world have no specified age for compulsory education, there exists a minimum employment age and marriage age around the world. In at least 125 countries, children aged 7 -- 15 may be taken to court and risk imprisonment for criminal acts. In some countries, children are legally obliged to go to school until they are 14 or 15 years old, but may also work before that age. A child's right to education is threatened by early marriage, child labor and imprisonment (Melchiorre, 2004).
The history of childhood may be a subject of controversy, it is important to remembere that historians have increasingly divided into two contrasting camps of opinion, those advocating "continuity" in child rearing practices, and those emphasizing "change." While evidence of what childhood may have been in the past, it is difficult for historians to reconstruct the life of a child, much more the "experience" of being a child (Jones and Brayfield, 2010). In fact, the history of childhood is a history that seems to elude much of historical perceptions, though a few glimpses remain. Perhaps due this lack of evidence, and because the evidence that does remain - advice literature, journals and letters, are so open to differing interpretations, that historians have divided over major issues such as whether children were loved and wanted in the past, the way parents viewed their children, and the treatment they received.
Juvenile delinquency, like crime in general, is simply a label applied to children. As such, the very notion of "reducing" juvenile crime is absurd. Even more absurd is the notion of resolving such issues with pie in the sky, idealistic and unattainable theoretical "solutions" premised on unlimited funding, allocative resources, and carte blanche will of "the king." While I wholeheartedly and vehemently believe that assignments such as these not only interfere with a working knowledge of social problems such as juvenile delinquency in our American society, but are, in fact, counter-productive to any effective approach in dealing with social issues, I will suspend my personal judgments about this assignment to achieve some measure of response to the prompt.
Bartol & Bartol (2005) write that social control theory helps explain why crime and delinquency occur given an individual's weak or lacking ties to the conventional order or normative standards. The socialization that usually keeps an individual's basic human nature in abeyance is defective. This position perceives human nature as fundamentally "bad" or "antisocial," an innate tendency that must be controlled by society (Bartol & Bartol, 2005). Akers (1973) suggested that criminal behavior is a learned response which occurs through a process of imitation or modeling of others.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs and Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention report entitled "Juvenile Arrests 2008," the most recent document available pertaining to the arrest rates of juveniles in America, law enforcement agencies in the United States made an estimated 2.11 million arrests of persons younger than age 18. Overall, there were 3% fewer juvenile arrests in 2008 than in 2007, and juvenile violent crime arrests fell 2%, continuing a recent decline. Juvenile arrest rates, particularly Violent Crime Index rates, increased in 2005 and again in 2006 amid fears that the Nation was on the brink of another juvenile crime wave (Puzzanchera, 2010). These latest data show increases in some offense categories but declines in most -- with most changes being less than 10% in either direction.
Data about juvenile crime typically come from three sources: arrest data, reports from victims, and self reports about crimes committed (McCord and Conway, 2010). Juveniles accounted for 16% of all violent crime arrests and 26% of all property crime arrests in 2008. Juveniles were involved in 12% of all violent crimes cleared in 2008 and 18% of property crimes cleared. In 2008, 11% (1,740) of all murder victims were younger than age 18. More than one-third (38%) of all juvenile murder victims were younger than age 5, but this proportion varied widely across demographic groups (Puzzanchera, 2010).
The juvenile murder arrest rate in 2008 was 3.8 arrests per 100,000 juveniles ages 10 through 17. This was 17% more than the 2004 low of 3.3, but 74% less than the 1993 peak of 14.4. Between 1999 and 2008, juvenile arrests for aggravated assault decreased more for males than for females (22% vs. 17%). During this period, juvenile male arrests for simple assault declined 6% and female arrests increased 12%.
In 2008, although black youth accounted for just 16% of the youth population ages 10 -- 17, they were involved in 52% of juvenile Violent Crime Index arrests and 33% of juvenile Property Crime Index arrests. The 2008 arrest rates for Violent Crime Index offenses were substantially lower than the rates in the 1994 peak year for every age group younger than 40.
Causes of juvenile delinquency:
According to Inadequate care and protection systems create multiple levels of violence against children and bring girls and boys into conflict with the law;
The overwhelming majority of children in the criminal justice system do not belong there;
The vast majority of youngsters deprived of their liberty have not been convicted of a crime and are yet to be brought to trial;
Misuse and overuse of detention and lack of alternatives put large numbers of boys and girls at risk of violence;
Imprisoning children for minor crimes decreases their chances to become productive, contributing adults, and is a disservice to communities;
The vast majority of children in conflict with the law are boys, but both boys and girls are subject to human rights violations.
Prevent girls and boys coming into conflict with the law in the first place by addressing the care and protection challenges they face;
Ensure that prevention, diversion and protection strategies are gender-sensitive, taking into account the over-representation of boys in the system as well as the problems faced by girls due to their minority status;
Decriminalize status offences and survival behaviors (such as begging, loitering; vagrancy), victims of sexual abuse and exploitation, and anti-social behaviors;
Utilize diversion as the presumed response to offenses, and reserve the formal criminal/juvenile justice system only for serious/violent offenders;
Ensure comprehensive, child-focused restorative juvenile justice systems that implement international standards;
Hold perpetrators of violence against boys and girls accountable through effective and transparent complaints, monitoring, and investigation and redress mechanisms.
Crimes committed by juveniles are among the most urgent social problems. Juvenile crime is as prevalent as crime itself is, and it has not been solved completely in any society. Clearly, the problem cannot be solved through law enforcement measures alone. For example, in the past fifteen years there has been a four hundred percent rise in the percentage of murders committed by juveniles along with the deliberate infliction of severe bodily harm; there has been a three hundred percent increase in the number of other violent crimes perpetrated by juveniles.