When is a child criminally responsible?

For those interested in substantive criminal law, here is an article discussing how South Asian countries’s criminal laws determine the age at which kids are criminally responsible. What is most notable is that each country’s penal code answers this question differently and the age of responsibility ranges from 7 years of age in India and Pakistan to 12 years of age in Afghanistan.

In Kenya the minimum age of criminal responsibility is eight years. If a defendant is 14 years old or younger, a Kenyan court must hold a preliminary hearing to decide if- at the time of the crime- he/she was capable of understanding that one ought not engage in the wrongful conduct.

The truth is that the criminal law rolls the dice when it comes to kids’ criminal responsibility and there is no scientifically certain way to decide when all children are incapable of understanding right and wrong. Clearly, the younger a kid is, the less likely that they “know evil”, but the exact age of responsibility is a question of legal history: the cut-off has varied over the centuries. This issue lies at the crossroads between behavioural psychology, child psychology, criminal law and neuroscience.