Children as murderers? After twelve-year-old Luise was found dead on the border between Rhineland-Palatinate and North Rhine-Westphalia on Sunday, the police investigated – and two girls aged twelve and 13 confessed to having killed the student (the star reported).
The two suspects are not in custody, although they are accused of a homicide. The reason is simple: in Germany, children up to their 14th birthday are not considered criminally responsible. The legislator assumes that children do not yet fully understand injustice and are therefore unable to control their behavior accordingly. The Criminal Code unequivocally regulates: "Anyone who commits the crime is not yet fourteen years old." And without guilt, no punishment. So the girls don't have to go to jail. But then what? What are the consequences for children who commit a capital crime?
According to the prosecutor, the two suspects were handed over to the youth welfare office. Because of her childish age and the resulting lack of criminal responsibility, no further details could be given about the course of events, the motive, behavior before and after the crime, and whereabouts.
The youth welfare office is now examining, for example, how the crime could have happened or whether the family needs support with bringing up the child. The main question is whether the well-being of the child is at risk. Ultimately, the youth welfare office initiates the further steps: According to the Social Security Code, these can range from help with bringing up the parents, to individual socio-pedagogical care, to accommodation in a home or with a foster family. If taking into care is an option, parental consent or a decision by the family court on parental custody is required. So the state's hands are not tied when children commit crimes.
The following also applies: The relatives of the killed twelve-year-olds may be able to claim compensation for pain and suffering – this would then have to be paid by the parents of the perpetrators.
The discussion about lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12 years is repeated in Germany, among other things on a larger scale after the gang rape in Mülheim in 2019. However, corresponding efforts came to nothing - probably also because serious crimes by children are absolute exceptional cases.
In 2021, the security authorities registered a total of 3,519 people who are said to have committed crimes against life. Among them were 19 children under the age of 14. This corresponds to a rate of 0.5 percent. Children are most often suspected of theft crimes.
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in June 2022 and has been republished with extensive updates to reflect the current case.
Sources: Criminal Code, Social Security Code, Police Crime Statistics 2021, DPA News Agency