A showtrial of children for being naughty
The conviction at the Old Bailey in London of a 10-year-old boy and an 11-year-old boy for attempted rape is bad enough. That the children were convicted despite the fact that the eight-year-old defendant admitted in court that she had made up the story of her ordeal is even worse. But what was worst of all was the very public exploitation of these three children for the purposes of working out adult fantasies.
What makes this case particularly important is that it exposes the insidious consequences of the disintegration of adult control over children. In recent decades, parents and adults more broadly have come under tremendous pressure not to discipline children. Punishment has become a dirty word in child-rearing manuals, smacking has become stigmatised, and parents who raise their voices to their children are denounced for being ‘emotionally abusive’.
The flipside of grown-ups’ paralysis towards containing children’s behaviour is a new reliance on formal processes to compensate for the loss of adult authority. So when the situation with a certain child appears to get out of hand, we issue an anti-social behaviour order or, as in this Old Bailey case, carry out a showtrial. Through such a showtrial, the prosecution can pretend that it is punishing individuals who are ‘criminally responsible’ rather than admitting what it is really doing: disciplining children. As is the case with all showtrials, the aim was not just to punish the so-called offenders but to send a message to a wider audience.
Okay, a few things to get out of the way: I'm not going to assume that the judge and jury were wrong (though the fact that the girl apparently changed her story back and forth casts some doubt) and the author's use of "show trial" is contentious.
Last, a 10 & 11 yr-old can certainly commit sexual abuse, if not rape.
But, I think he is correct that the erosion of parents'/adult authority has led to involving the state in controlling children. The age for trying children as adults has been lowered again and again, at least here in the US. How low can it go? Eight, the age of reason?