Questions and Answers: Why Do Children Become Violent Criminals?

panorama Questions and answers

Why do children become violent criminals?

“We know the perpetrator and the victim knew each other”

The death of a 15-year-old in Salzgitter raises many questions. “It is clear that the girl died of lack of oxygen,” said Hans Christian Wolters of the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Braunschweig. In the WELT interview, he comments on the two 13- and 14-year-old suspects.

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A 13- and a 14-year-old boy are said to have murdered their classmate in Salzgitter. Juvenile delinquency has fallen in Germany in recent years. But what could be the causes of violence? How often do children become violent?

Nafter the violent death of a 15-year-old, the town of Salzgitter is confused, sad and angry. More and more people are laying flowers on the edge of the overgrown green area where the dead girl was spotted on Tuesday. Student Anastasia is said to have been murdered by two 13- and 14-year-old boys. It is known that the suspected perpetrators and the victim went to the same school and that Anastasia was strangled.

How often do children and young people become violent criminals?

Last year, the Federal Criminal Police (BKA) registered 2,595 cases in Germany involving murder, manslaughter or manslaughter on request. The number of suspects under the age of 14 for these crimes was 19 compared to eleven the year before. In the age group from 14 to under 16 years, 58 suspects were registered, the year before there were 35. If you look only at the murder suspects, in 2021 there were only seven children under 14 years. Attempted homicide is also included in the statistics.

Do these figures reflect the effects of the pandemic?

Overall, violent crime among young people, according to an analysis by the German Youth Institute (DJI), has been declining since 2010, although there was a slight increase in 2018 and 2019. “The pandemic does not seem to stop the downward trend in juvenile violence,” says criminologist Klaus Boers from the University of Münster. It showed the latest data.

Nevertheless, frightening individual actions occur again and again. What do you know about the perpetrators?

In the book “When Young People Kill” (CHBeck Verlag), Marburg’s child and adolescent psychiatrist Helmut Remschmidt analyzes anonymous cases from recent decades. Therefore, no one becomes a murderer or manslayer just because of a difficult childhood. A number of factors play together, such as personal experiences with violence, alcohol and drug use or a dissocial personality disorder, which can manifest itself early on, for example by torturing animals. Group dynamics can also play a role.

Why do boys in particular become violent?

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Boys have a higher potential for aggression. This is genetic, but also due to upbringing. In addition, boys are more likely to identify with violent criminals in movies or video games, according to the book When Young People Kill.

What do experts say about the call for a stricter criminal law for young people?

Germany has had good experiences with the concept of education in juvenile delinquency for decades, says lawyer Boers. Especially with everyday crime such as shoplifting, one is careful and sets many cases. Crime and prison rates for young people in Germany are low in international comparison – it is also related to the good pedagogical and preventive work, for example with street social work in troubled areas.

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Were there such prevention programs in Salzgitter-Fredenberg where the 15-year-old was killed?

Yes. In the district, which is often described as difficult, the dismay among the social workers is great. “There is bewilderment,” says Ulrich Hagedorn, CEO of the local worker welfare organization. In a very emotional situation, it is about calming down. “But we also emphasize that this is a completely extraordinary situation, and similar things do not happen regularly.” There is a risk that many years of good prevention work will be wasted.

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What happens now to the suspects in the case of the slain Anastasia?

The 13-year-old is not yet criminally liable. The local youth protection wants to obtain placement in a child and adolescent psychiatric institution, which must be ordered by the family court. The boy has already been assessed by a psychiatrist. As criminologist Boers explains, the criminally responsible 14-year-old will in any case be examined by a psychiatrist. “I assume that we are dealing here with both with a significant need for treatment,” says the expert.

Apparently, they had a complete lack of impulse control. The Youth Act provides a maximum prison sentence of ten years for criminals over 14 years. This is imposed if young people are particularly guilty.

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