The murder of twelve-year-old Luise from Freudenberg is terribly sad. After this statement, a long silence should actually follow - before another observation is allowed to follow: The consequences of this act of violence are currently being debated more openly than in previous comparative cases. This applies above all to dealing with suspects and the question: At what age can and should young offenders be expected to go to court?
Because the two confessing girls are under 14 years old and therefore not criminally responsible. So should the age of criminal responsibility be reduced from 14 to 12, as in the Netherlands? Traditionally, the German Police Union (DPolG), AfD, CSU and the more conservative parts of the CDU promote this in Berlin, for example – at least in the case of serious acts of violence and if the necessary ability to understand is given. Almost all other parties, associations and unions have so far traditionally opposed the summons of twelve-year-olds to the judge.
These rigid fronts are currently beginning to crumble. Forensic psychologists such as Dietmar Heubrock from the University of Bremen recommend that when children are criminally responsible, “decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis”. The Association of Judges, which has so far been rather reserved, now also advises an examination "whether the level of development of children and young people is different today than it used to be". And whether that could justify a lowered criminal responsibility.
Similarly surprising: Individuals in the NRW-CDU now also dare to think about an earlier criminal responsibility - although the NRW-CDU is considered a "left" state association. Incidentally, this classification also applies to NRW Interior Minister Herbert Reul – despite all the raids in the clan milieu – as a comparison of his positions with those of the CSU in Bavaria or the CDU in Berlin shows.
Nevertheless, it is not the reticent Reul who is now pleading, but Gregor Golland, the NRW CDU parliamentary group leader, to consider criminal responsibility from the age of twelve. "It should at least be discussed. It cannot be that the most serious crimes committed by under-14s are not subject to serious sanctions. A solution must be found here in the interests of the victims," Golland told WELT.
That sounded different in 2019, for the time being the last debate on the topic. At that time, among other things, eleven and twelve-year-olds in Mülheim an der Ruhr had raped and sexually molested women. In 2019, experts justified their rejection of criminal responsibility from the age of twelve with the long-declining violent crime among children and young people. This trend makes thinking about criminal law reforms superfluous.
Nowadays, hardly any (supposed) experts claim that so unreservedly. For example, the criminologist Christian Pfeiffer. According to him, "all the statistics show that violent crime has been falling significantly nationwide for the past 15 years - most notably among young people". But this is not only refuted for NRW.
The number of suspected children there rose by around 40 percent to 20,948 in 2022. Of them, 2,427 have been charged with dangerous and serious bodily harm and 2,314 with offenses against sexual self-determination – with a clear upward trend. In some other federal states, too, the number of violent children shot up in 2022 (in Bavaria by almost 3,000 suspects). It is not yet known how child crime has developed in many other federal states because they have not yet presented their annual crime statistics. But NRW and Bavaria are often regarded as harbingers of nationwide trends.
So one thing is certain: the time when you could wipe away the discussion about the age of criminal responsibility by referring to the declining child crime rate – it is over. And that too is terribly sad.