In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Children as Perpetrators of Crime

  • Introduction
  • Journals
  • Childhood Studies: Relevant Foundational Concepts
  • Youth Justice Including Rights-Based Approaches
  • Innocence Versus Evil
  • Criminal Responsibility of Children

Childhood Studies Children as Perpetrators of Crime
Claire McDiarmid
  • LAST REVIEWED: 07 October 2021
  • LAST MODIFIED: 15 January 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791231-0212


Childhood studies recognizes that children are participants in society and questions accepted aspects of their disempowerment. It identifies what children do and, in so doing, recognizes their agency. In relation to the criminal law, this can create tension with the notion of the child as an innocent in need of protection coming into direct conflict with the concept of him/her as (responsible and wrongdoing) offender. This issue arises both in relation to the paradox of the individual child offender who embodies both characteristics simultaneously (McDiarmid 2007, cited under Youth Justice Including Rights-Based Approaches) and in relation to the polarized categorization of children into innocents and evildoers (Fionda 2005 and Rosier 2011, both cited under Innocence Versus Evil). For some, there appears to be little difficulty in accepting that children have the ability to commit, and to be accountable for, serious crimes; and an unquestioning acceptance of the child’s agency might accentuate this tendency. In fact, however, childhood studies offers a much richer perspective. Its application in relation to children as perpetrators of crime, therefore, offers the opportunity of placing behavior constituting a criminal act in the broader context of the child’s own social world. Its direct application in this area has been relatively limited, but the breadth of perspective it brings to issues of criminal responsibility is profound. In general, literature on children as perpetrators of crime applies childhood studies merely as one element in placing their criminal responsibility within the broader context of their lives and experiences. While there is a vast literature, then, on juvenile justice, only a small proportion directly (or even indirectly) engages with childhood studies. Childhood studies as a discipline has also engaged quite minimally with children who offend in a direct sense, but much of its literature offers a base from which to pursue questions of responsibility and agency that are central to this field.


Youth Justice is the journal most consistently publishing articles, making the link between childhood studies as a discipline and children as perpetrators. A recent special edition of the (otherwise general) Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly related to the age of criminal responsibility.

  • Northern Ireland Legal Quarterly. Special Issue: The Age of Criminal Responsibility 67.3 (2016): 263–406.

    Incorporates ten articles on the age of criminal responsibility, many drawing directly on sociological perspectives, across a number of jurisdictions including China and Ireland.

  • Youth Justice. 2001–.

    This journal publishes theoretically and empirically grounded pieces looking at aspects of youth justice from legal, policy and practice perspectives. A recent special edition (13.2 [2013]: 99–189) was devoted specifically to the age of criminal responsibility.

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