Defense of infancy

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The defense of infancy is a form of defense known as an excuse so that defendants falling within the definition of an "infant" are excluded from criminal liability for their actions, if at the relevant time, they had not reached an age of criminal responsibility. After reaching the initial age, there may be levels of responsibility dictated by age and the type of offense committed.

Under the English common law the defense of infancy was expressed as a set of presumptions in a doctrine known as doli incapax. A child under the age of seven was presumed incapable of committing a crime. The presumption was conclusive, prohibiting the prosecution from offering evidence that the child had the capacity to appreciate the nature and wrongfulness of what he had done. Children aged seven to under fourteen were presumed incapable of committing a crime but the presumption was rebuttable. The prosecution could overcome the presumption by proving that the child understood what he was doing and that it was wrong. In fact capacity was a necessary element of the state's case. If the state failed to offer sufficient evidence of capacity the infant was entitled to have the charges dismissed at the close of the state's evidence. Doli incapax was abolished in England and Wales in 1998,[1] but persists in other common law jurisdictions.


The terminology regarding such a defense varies by jurisdiction and sphere. Instances of usage have included the terms age of accountability,[2] age of responsibility,[3] age of criminal responsibility[4] and age of liability.[5] The rationale behind the age of accountability laws are the same as those behind the insanity defense, insinuating both the mentally disabled and the young lack apprehension.[6]

The age of criminal responsibility[edit]

Governments enact laws to label certain types of activity as wrongful or illegal. Behaviour of a more antisocial nature can be stigmatized in a more positive way to show society's disapproval through the use of the word criminal. In this context, laws tend to use the phrase, "age of criminal responsibility" in two different ways:

  1. As a definition of the process for dealing with an alleged offender, the range of ages specifies the exemption of a child from the adult system of prosecution and punishment. Most states develop special juvenile justice systems in parallel to the adult criminal justice system. Here, the hearings are essentially welfare-based and deal with children as in need of compulsory measures of treatment and/or care. Children are diverted into this system when they have committed what would have been an offense as an adult.
  2. As the physical capacity of a child to commit a crime. Hence, children are deemed incapable of committing some sexual or other acts requiring abilities of a more mature quality.

Thus, each state is considering whether any given child has committed an offense, and given that answer, what the most appropriate measures would be for dealing with a child who has done what this child did. It is noted that, in some states, a link is made between infancy as a defense and defenses that diminish responsibility on the ground of a mental illness. Distinctions between children, young offenders, juveniles, etc. are used to denote matching levels of incapacity. The majority view is that this linkage is not constructive in that it implies that children are in some way mentally defective whereas they merely lack the judgment that comes with age and experience.


This is an aspect of the public policy of parens patriae. In the criminal law, each state will consider the nature of its own society and the available evidence of the age at which antisocial behaviors begins to manifest itself. Some societies will have qualities of indulgence toward the young and inexperienced, and will not wish them to be exposed to the criminal law system before all other avenues of response have been exhausted. Hence, some states have a policy of doli incapax (i.e. incapable of wrong) and exclude liability for all acts and omissions that would otherwise have been criminal up to a specified age.[7] Hence, no matter what the infant may have done, there cannot be a criminal prosecution. However, although no criminal liability is inferred, other aspects of law may be applied. For example, in Nordic countries, an offense by a person under 15 years of age is considered mostly a symptom of problems in child's development. This will cause the social authorities to take appropriate administrative measures to secure the development of the child. Such measures may range from counseling to placement at special care unit. Being non-judicial, the measures are not dependent on the severity of the offense committed but on the overall circumstances of the child.

The policy of treating minors as incapable of committing crimes does not necessarily reflect modern sensibilities. Thus, if the rationale of the excuse is that children below a certain age lack the capacity to form the mens rea of an offense, this may no longer be a sustainable argument. Indeed, given the different speeds at which people may develop both physically and intellectually, any form of explicit age limit may be arbitrary and irrational. Yet, the sense that children do not deserve to be exposed to criminal punishment in the same way as adults remains strong. Children have not had experience of life, nor do they have the same mental and intellectual capacities as adults. Hence, it might be considered unfair to treat young children in the same way as adults.

In Scotland the age of criminal responsibility is currently eight years, however age of criminal prosecution was raised to 12 in 2010.[8] In England and Wales and Northern Ireland the age of responsibility is ten years and in the Netherlands and Canada, the age of responsibility is twelve years. Sweden, Finland, and Norway all set the age at fifteen years. In the United States, the age varies between states, being as low as six years in South Carolina and seven years in 35 states; 11 years is the minimum age for federal crimes.

As the treaty parties of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court could not agree on a minimum age for criminal responsibility, they chose to solve the question procedurally and excluded the jurisdiction of the Court for persons under eighteen years.

Some countries refuse to set a fixed minimum age, but leave discretion to prosecutors to argue or the judges to rule on whether the child or adolescent ("juvenile") defendant understood that what was being done was wrong. If the defendant did not understand the difference between right and wrong, it may not be considered appropriate to treat such a person as culpable. Alternatively, the lack of real fault in the offender can be recognized by rulings that dispense mitigated criminal sentences or address more practical matters of parental responsibility by adjusting the rights of parents to unsupervised custody, or by separate criminal proceedings against the parents for breach of their duties as parents.

Ages of criminal responsibility by country[edit]

The following are the minimum ages at which people may be charged with a criminal offence in each country:

Country Age Reference Notes
 United States 0-11 [9][10] At the state level, 33 states set no minimum age of criminal responsibility.[9] For federal crimes, the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 11.[10]
 Afghanistan 7–12 [11] According to Articles 12 and 45 of the Juvenile Code, children aged 7–12 can be subject to warnings, supervision by social services, or confinement to a rehabilitation centre.
 India 7 [12]
 Myanmar 7 [12]
 Nigeria 7 [13]
 Pakistan 7 [12]
 Singapore 7 [12]
 Sudan 7–15 [13] Children aged 7 to 15 can be held criminally responsible if they have reached puberty.[14]
 Tanzania 7 [13]
 Thailand 7 [12]
 Antigua and Barbuda 8 [15] According to Articles 1 and 3 of the Juvenile Act, Courts must have regard to the welfare of those under 16.
 Indonesia 8 [12]
 Kenya 8 [13]
 United Kingdom 8-10 [16][17][18][19]
 Bangladesh 9 [12]
 Ethiopia 9 [13]
 Iran 9 (girls); 15 (boys) [20][21]
 Ireland 10–11 [22] Children aged 10 or 11 can be charged with murder, manslaughter, rape or aggravated sexual assault.
 Australia 10 [23] Age of criminal responsibility in Australia.
Rebuttable presumption of incapacity of committing crime: under 14.[23][24]
 Hong Kong 10 [25]
 Malaysia 10 [26][27]
   Nepal 10 [12]
 New Zealand 10 [28][29] Rebuttable presumption of incapacity until age 14. Children aged 10 and 11 can only be convicted of murder or manslaughter; children aged 12 and 13 can only be convicted of crimes with a maximum imprisonment of 14 years but this may be increased circumstantially. See Youth justice in New Zealand.
 South Africa 10 [13] The Child Justice Act 75 of 2008 came into effect 1 April 2010. There is a rebuttable presumption that a child between the ages of 10 and 14 lacks criminal capacity.
  Switzerland 10 [30]
 Andorra 12 [31]
 Belgium 12 [30]
 Brazil 12 [32][33][34][35] Juvenile judiciary system for offenders aged between 12 and 18, can be sentenced to a maximum of 3 years of imprisonment; separate juvenile jails. Full criminal responsibility from age 18.
 Canada 12 [36]
 Costa Rica 12 [37] Even though legal procedures and punishment are different for offenders who are under 18, all offenders who are 12 or older may be sentenced to as much as 15 years of incarceration.
 Egypt 12 [13]
 Hungary 12 [38] 12 only for premeditated homicide, voluntary manslaughter and bodily harm leading to death or resulting in life-threatening injuries; 14 for other crimes.[38]
 Israel 12 [12]
 Morocco 12 [13]
 Netherlands 12 [30]
 Turkey 12 [30]
 Uganda 12 [13]
 Algeria 13 [39] Children aged 13–18 are subject to attenuated penalties.
 France 13 [30]
 Uzbekistan 13–16 [12] "Persons can be held criminally responsible for all offences committed after they have reached the age of 16, and for intentional killing from the age of 13, and for other specifically named offences from the age of 14. [Criminal Code, Article 17]"
 Albania 14 [40] Article 1 of the Code distinguishes between offences and contraventions. Article 12 mandates that the latter (which are less serious) have a higher age limit of 16.
 Armenia 14 [41]
 Angola 14 [42] Minimum and maximum sentences are reduced by two thirds between 14 and 16, and half between 16 and 18. The needs of rehabilitation and social reintegration are also to be taken into account for under 18s.
 Austria 14 [43]
 Azerbaijan 14 [44]
 Bolivia 14 [45][46] Lowered in July 2014 from 16 to 14.
 China 14 [12]
 Croatia 14 [47] 14 for all crimes under the general provisions of the Criminal Code; special provisions may apply for some crimes up to the age 21.
 Estonia 14 [30]
 Germany 14 [48] Minors between 14 and 18 years are sentenced by juvenile justice. An adult between 18 and 21 years may still be sentenced by juvenile justice if considered mentally immature.
 Italy 14 [30] Juvenile judiciary system for offenders aged between 14 and 18; separate juvenile jails. Full criminal responsibility from age 18.
 Japan 14 [49]
 Paraguay 14 [50] Offenders between 14 and 17 can be sentenced to a maximum of 8 years of imprisonment.
 Romania 14 [30]
 Russia 14 [51]
 Slovenia 14 [30]
 North Korea 14 [12]
 South Korea 14 [12]
 Spain 14 [52]
 Taiwan 14 Offenders aged 14 to 18 years qualify for reduction of sentence under section 18 of the Criminal Code. The death penalty and imprisonment without term cannot be applied to offenders aged 14 to 18 years.[53]
 Ukraine 14 [30]
 Vietnam 14 [12]
 Czech Republic 15 [54]
 Denmark 15 [30]
 Finland 15 [55]
 Iceland 15 [30]
 Norway 15 [56]
 Philippines 15 [57][58]
 Poland 15–18 [60]
 Sweden 15 [30]
 Argentina 16 [62][63]
 Chile 16 [64][65]
 DR Congo 16 [66]
 Portugal 16 [67]
 Cuba 16 [68]
 Colombia 18 [34]
 Ecuador 18 [69]
 Mexico 18 [70]
 Peru 14–18 [34]
 Uruguay 18 [71]

Child imprisonment[edit]

Child imprisonment is a concept in criminal law where people are considered not old enough to be held responsible for their criminal acts. The main problem in most countries is whether children should be punished as an adult for crimes committed as a juvenile, or if special treatment is a better solution for the offender.

Juvenile courts[edit]

In some countries, a juvenile court is a court of special jurisdiction charged with adjudicating cases involving crimes committed by those who have not yet reached a specific age. If convicted in a juvenile court, the offender is found "responsible" for their actions as opposed to "guilty" for a criminal offense. Sometimes, in some jurisdictions (such as the United States) a minor may be tried as an adult.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ R v JTB (2009) UKHL 20
  2. ^ Ranson, Stewart. "Public accountability in the age of neo‐liberal governance." J. Education Policy 18.5 (2003): 459-480.
  3. ^ Platt, Anthony, and Bernard L. Diamond. "The origins of the right and wrong test of criminal responsibility and its subsequent development in the United States: An historical survey." Cal. L. Rev. 54 (1966): 1227.
  4. ^ STATTIN, HEKAN, and David Magnusson. "Stability and change in criminal behaviour up to age 30." British Journal of Criminology 31.4 (1991): 327-346.
  5. ^ Ferreira, Nuno. "Putting the age of criminal and tort liability into context: A dialogue between law and psychology." The International Journal of Children's Rights 16.1 (2008): 29-54.
  6. ^ Roberts, Caton F., Stephen L. Golding, and Frank D. Fincham. "Implicit theories of criminal responsibility: Decision making and the insanity defense." Law and Human Behavior 11.3 (1987): 207.
  7. ^ Dalby JT. (1985). "Criminal liability in children". Canadian Journal of Criminology. 27: 137–145. 
  8. ^ Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, s 52; Easton S and Piper C (2012). Sentencing and Punishment: The Quest for Justice (3rd ed.) Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 256. ISBN 0-19-969353-6
  9. ^ a b "Minimum Ages of Criminal Responsibility in the Americas | CRIN". Retrieved 2017-05-20. 
  10. ^ a b "The minimum age of criminal responsibility continues to divide opinion". The Economist. Retrieved 2017-05-20. 
  11. ^ Afghanistan Juvenile Code, Article 10
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n "Minimum Ages of Criminal Responsibility in Asia | CRIN". Retrieved 2017-05-20. 
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Minimum Ages of Criminal Responsibility in Africa | CRIN". Retrieved 2017-05-20. 
  14. ^ Criminal Act. Sudan. 1991. pp. Sections 3 and 9. 
  15. ^ Juvenile Act, Article 8
  16. ^ The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (23 & 24 Geo.5 c.12), section 50; as amended by The Children and Young Persons Act 1963 (c.37), section 16(1) [1]
  17. ^ "Age of criminal responsibility". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  18. ^ Report on the Draft Justice (NI) Bill of the Northern Ireland Assembly's official website
  19. ^ "Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  20. ^ "Iran Human Rights Documentation Center – Criminal Responsibility of Children in the Islamic Republic of Iran's New Penal Code". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  21. ^ "Iran urged to increase age of criminal responsibility for children". 17 March 2014. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  22. ^ "Children and the criminal justice system". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  23. ^ a b "CRIMES ACT 1914 s 4M". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  24. ^ "CRIMES ACT 1914 s 4N". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  25. ^ a b Section 3 of the Juvenile Offenders Ordinance 2003 (Chapter 226, Laws of Hong Kong)
  26. ^ "UNICEF Malaysia – Child Protection – Justice for Children". UNICEF. Retrieved 29 August 2015. 
  27. ^ "Minimum Ages of Criminal Responsibility in Asia". CRIN. Retrieved 29 August 2015. 
  28. ^ "Sections 21–22, Crimes Act 1961 No 43". Parliamentary Counsel Office (New Zealand). Retrieved 26 August 2015. 
  29. ^ "Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  30. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m "Minimum Ages of Criminal Responsibility in Europe | CRIN". Retrieved 2017-05-20. 
  31. ^ Criminal Code of Andorra, Article 2
  32. ^ Federal Constitution (in Portuguese), Article 228. Retrieved 02-01-2011.
  33. ^ Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente (pt), Seção V. Retrieved 02-05-2013
  34. ^ a b c "Progress of Nations 1997 Special Protections – Progress and Disparity". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  35. ^ "Folha de S.Paulo". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  36. ^ Criminal Code, RSC 1985, c C-46, s. 13; may receive reduced sentencing under the Youth Criminal Justice Act until age 18.
  37. ^ "La mayoría de los países de América latina ya tiene un régimen penal juvenil". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  38. ^ a b "Justice ministry rejects UNICEF criticism of new criminal code provisions on youthful offenders". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  39. ^ Algerian Penal Code, Article 49
  40. ^ Criminal Code of the Republic of Albania, Article 12.
  41. ^ "Criminal Code (2003) Article 24". Retrieved 2015-12-16. 
  42. ^ "Angola". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  43. ^ "Jugendgerichtsgesetz (1988) §1(1–2) and 4". Retrieved 2015-12-16. 
  44. ^ "Criminal Code of the Azerbaijan Republic (2000) Article 20 (1–2). [Note: unofficial translation.]". Retrieved 2015-12-16. 
  45. ^ "Rige Ley donde se reduce la edad de imputabilidad de los menores". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  46. ^ "Bolivia – Edad de responsabilidad penal ordinaria es desde los 18 años – JORNADA". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  47. ^ "Kazneni zakon". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  48. ^ "Criminal Code (Strafgesetzbuch, StGB)". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  49. ^ Japanese Penal Code (Act No.45 of 1907), article 41 [2]
  50. ^
  51. ^ "СТ 20 УК РФ. Статья 20. Возраст, с которого наступает уголовная ответственность". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  52. ^ Ley Orgánica 5/2000, de 12 de enero, reguladora de la responsabilidad penal de los menores (in Spanish)
  53. ^ Criminal Code of the Republic of China
  54. ^ Klaus podpisem stvrdil trestní odpovědnost i legální sex od 15 let –
  55. ^ Penal Code 3:1 § (39/1889, as changed by 515/2003). Retrieved 10-31-2007.
  56. ^ Penal Code Almindelig borgerlig Straffelov (Straffeloven) § 46 (changed of law 12 Jun 1987 nr. 51). Retrieved 19/7 – 2007.
  57. ^ "RA9344: Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006". Chan Robles Law Library. April 28, 2006. 
  58. ^ "PNoy signs law retaining minimum age of criminal liability". Yahoo News. October 8, 2013.  External link in |publisher= (help)
  59. ^ "En Banc Supreme Court resolution on Proposed Rule on Juveniles in Conflict With the Law". Chan Robles Law Library. effective April 15, 2002.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  60. ^ "Article 10 of Polish Penal Code of 1997" (PDF). 
  61. ^ "Przepisy ogólne". Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  62. ^ "Debates Over Lowering the Criminal Responsibility Age". The Argentina Independent. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  63. ^ "Ley 22.278 Régimen Penal de la Minoridad Articles 1–2". Retrieved 2015-12-16. 
  64. ^
  65. ^ "Ministro de Justicia descarta rebaja en edad de responsabilidad penal adolescente". Emol. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  66. ^
  67. ^ Ana Cristina Pereira. "Responsabilidade criminal deve passar dos 16 para os 18 anos de idade". PÚBLICO. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  68. ^
  69. ^ "Adolescentes infractores, en la mira de Código Penal". El Telegrafo, telegrafo, diario, Ecuador, noticias, noticias de Ecuador, decano de la prensa nacional. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  70. ^ "Fiscal pide rebajar edad penal en México tras liberar a supuesto niño-sicario". Terra. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 
  71. ^ "Uruguayans reject constitutional reform on criminal responsibility". GlobalPost. Retrieved 28 July 2015. 


Further reading[edit]

  • Maher, Gerry. "Age and Criminal Responsibility. 2005 Vol 2. Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law. 493 [3]
  • CRC Country Reports (1992–1996); Juvenile Justice and Juvenile Delinquency in Central and Eastern Europe, 1995; United Nations, Implementation of UN Mandates on Juvenile Justice in ESCAP, 1994; Geert Cappelaere, Children's Rights Centre, University of Gent, Belgium.