Children as young as six in St Helens have been recorded as committing a range of serious crimes, shocking new police figures reveal.
Youngsters under the age of criminal responsibility cannot be charged but police record offences if there is compelling evidence a child is responsible.
Startling figures obtained by the St Helens Reporter reveal officers investigated and recorded two children aged just six over criminal acts.
Police chiefs say they are unable to state the nature of crimes they committed.
However, they do say crimes recorded between 2011 and 2014 by children under 10 include arson attacks, common assault and battery, racial abusive, criminal damage, sexual abuse and rape.
Fourteen crimes were recorded by minors in St Helens over the three-year period.
St Helens Council’s youth offending team declined to comment.
The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old. This means that children under 10 can’t be arrested or charged with a crime.
Children under 10 cannot be charged with committing a criminal offence. However, they can be given a Local Child Curfew or a Child Safety Order.
Children under 10 who break the law regularly can sometimes be taken into care, or their parents could be held responsible.
If a child is given a Local Child Curfew it can last for up to 90 days and it can see children banned from being in a public place between 9pm and 6am, unless accompanied by an adult.
If a child has committed an offence or broken a Local Child Curfew, they can be placed under the supervision of a youth offending team. This is called a Child Safety Order.
The order normally lasts for up to three months, but in some cases it can last for up to 12 months.
If a child doesn’t stick to the rules of an order, the court can consider if the child should be taken into care.
Last year saw the 20th anniversary of the kidnap and murder of James Bulger at the hands of two 10-year-olds, Robert Thompson and Jon Venables in Liverpool.
Despite numerous calls for a review of the age of criminality subsequent governments have ruled out any change to the status quo. But at 10, the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) in England and Wales remains low by international standards, and pressure for an increase has been growing.
In December last year, the National Association for Youth Justice (NAYJ), which promotes the rights of young people in trouble with the law, launched a campaign to raise the MACR to 16, with a welfare-based approach for those any younger.
Criminalising children is counterproductive, say campaigners: it does little to prevent re-offending, makes it harder for them to secure employment in the future and exposes them to more serious offenders increasing the risk of further crime.
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) has been warning since 1995 that the UK’s threshold of 10 – set in 1963 – is incompatible with its obligations under the UN’s convention on children’s rights.
The UNCRC wants countries to set the age of criminal responsibility at an “absolute minimum” of 12, and aim to keep increasing it. The European average is 14, ranging from 13 in France, 14 in Germany, 15 in Denmark and Sweden, 16 in Portugal and 18 in Luxembourg. Scotland increased the age at which children can be prosecuted from eight to 12 in 2011.
Children between 10 and 17 in England can be arrested and taken to court if they commit a crime.
They are treated differently from adults and are dealt with by youth courts, given different sentencesand sent to special secure centres for young people, not adult prisons.