Published by Save the Children uk, Bosnia and Herzegovina Programme

The Age at which Criminal Offences are most Frequently Committed

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The Age at which Criminal Offences are most Frequently Committed

In BiH, it is estimated that criminal offences are most frequently committed between the ages of 14 and 17, although it has been noted that younger children are increasingly coming into conflict with the law.2 This rise in the number of children up to the age of 14 who have experienced conflict with the law is of exceptional importance, since research papers3 point to a higher likelihood of recidivism of juvenile offenders who begin violating the law at a younger age. In the context of this analysis, it was not possible to follow up the aforementioned assessments to clarify whether the age limit is shifting toward younger age groups.

Status Offences – the Status of the Child and a Criminal Offence

In many countries, certain criminal acts constitute offences when committed by children, but the same acts are not treated as such when committed by adults. These so-called "status offences" are mainly related to situations where a child runs away from home or he or she is deemed to be out of control, or in cases of destitution, vagrancy, or even begging.4

Often, such status offences lead to “measures” which result in the children being put in prison or an institution. In BiH, legislative provisions do not connect an offence to the status of the child.5 Children under the age of 14 cannot be sentenced by a court, whereas it is within the scope of social welfare services to provide services to homeless children vagrants or to children from economically vulnerable families.

In the process of law reform, the issue of status offences should be taken into consideration recognising the existing good solutions.

International standards:
“ …Legislation should be enacted to ensure that any conduct not considered an offence or not penalised if committed by an adult is not considered an offence and not penalised if committed by a young person”.
UN Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, Riyadh Guidelines

Gender Differences

The majority of minors who violate the law in BiH are boys. It is estimated that the ratio of boy to girl offenders is around 19 to 1. Girls tend to breach the law between the ages of 14 to 17, most commonly, as for boys, with offences against property.

However, some differences have been observed in girls who offend.6 It has been noted that when breaking the law, girls are usually alone or with one other girl, while boys are generally in a group. Contrary to boys, girls less often violate the law suddenly or in ad hoc situations. Recidivism among girls is proportionally more frequent than for boys. Rehabilitation lasts longer, supposedly due to combined aggravating consequences for girls (i.e. unwanted pregnancy or prostitution combined with violation of the law).

Although more juvenile crime is committed by boys, it has been observed that the risk factors to which girls are exposed are more numerous and intense in countries undergoing economic and social transition,7 placing girls in BiH in a particularly vulnerable position.8

Social services dealing with juvenile offenders are not particularly concerned with issues related to the position of girls. However awareness and information about the specific situation of female juvenile offenders are necessary when:

  • police establish contact with a juvenile offender

  • social services are involved in preparatory proceedings and the post-penal period

  • measures are being taken to prevent re-offending

  • providing appropriate detention conditions

  • introducing sanctions in semi-open and closed institutions.

International standards:
“Girls demand special attention and adequate treatment during the hearing, custody and at every stage of criminal justice process due to their particular problems and personal needs.”

Resolution 9 from the 6th UN Congress on Prevention of the Crime and the Treatment of Offenders.
“Young female offenders placed in an institution deserve special attention as to their personal needs and problems. They shall by no means receive less care, protection, assistance, treatment and training than young male offenders. Their fair treatment shall be ensured.”

UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, Beijing Rules.

Risk Factors / Causes of Juvenile Offending

This Analysis does not include further theoretical analysis on the topic of risk factors in BiH, i.e. factors contributing to juvenile offending, to what degree and how often they coincide with direct causes and how they can be classified. Thus the “risk factor” and “the cause” are seen, in this document, as the same. However, research studies indicate that not all children exposed to one or more risk factors behave in such a way as to come into conflict with the law. This highlights the need for further analysis to distinguish between risk factors and immediate causes of juvenile offending behaviour.9

The general understanding of BiH experts with extensive experience in social work with juvenile offenders is that the phenomenon of juvenile crime is complex and the causes are multi-dimensional. A single risk factor alone, or all factors together, will not necessarily lead to juvenile offending behaviour. There is no single cause of juvenile offending behaviour that can fully and adequately explain why an individual child gets into conflict with the law.
Yet there is a general consensus by those experts in the field of juvenile offending interviewed for the purpose of this analysis that the causes of young offenders’ behaviour may be classified as internal (related to the personality of a minor) and external (related to surrounding factors).
A prevailing opinion among large groups of professionals from the social sector is that the dominant causes of juvenile offending are related to:

  • deteriorating general living conditions (poverty, decline in standard of living, unemployment, displacement, inadequate health and social care)

  • disturbed family relations (a lack of care and control by the child’s parents, detrimental occurrences in nearby surroundings, violence and alcohol addiction in family)

  • irregular school attendance, falling behind in studies, dropping out of school

  • the child’s personality (emotional and social immaturity, low tolerance to frustration, poor social adaptability, identification with negative role models)

  • the influence or pressure from peer groups.

Except for individual papers on this topic by experts in social and psychological sciences, there has been no systematic study into the causes of juvenile crime in BiH, nor any formulation of preventive strategies or other programmes based on such observations.

However, one recent study10 on juvenile crime provides an insight into the thinking of juvenile offenders themselves about what led them to break the law, despite relying on a relatively small sample of juvenile offenders. More than half of the respondents pointed to pressure from others preceding instances of breaking the law, while a large number spoke about the desire to assert themselves within their peer group. Child respondents felt there should be greater concern for the family, as well as preventive work at school with children considered to be at risk.

In wider terms, some studies on juvenile offending in Central and Eastern Europe11 describe, in addition to factors related to economic and social transition, the demise of critical institutions that during the time of communism played a role in establishing moral norms and discipline (such as pioneers’ and youth associations). Along with their disappearance, young people are increasingly being exposed to new cultures and technologies through the process of globalisation, a trend posing a risk factor which could be a worthwhile research subject.

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