Posted: 02 January 2014

Don’t punish children for being children

Criminalising children for ordinary childhood behaviour

The government are trying to change the law and broaden the current definition of anti-social behaviour. They are proposing to replace ASBOs with new Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance (IPNAs). While ASBOs targeted behaviour considered to "cause harassment, alarm or distress,” IPNAs will target conduct “capable of causing nuisance or annoyance”.

We are seriously concerned that this new definition of anti-social behaviour is too vague and casts the net far too wide. It risks criminalising children for ordinary childhood behaviour and drawing them into the criminal justice system. This is why we are supporting the Standing Committee for Youth Justice’s (SCYJ) petition calling on the government to keep the existing definition.

We have been campaigning with the SCYJ and raising our concerns ever since the government first proposed these changes in 2011, along with Play England, Liberty, The Criminal Justice Alliance and Justice, who are also supporting this petition. You can read our Chief Executive’s views on this in his blog on the Huffington Post.

Disproportionate sanctions

The law could also mean that children as young as ten could get an IPNA for doing something as harmless as playing football or climbing a tree, just because someone else finds their behaviour annoying.

The punishments are not trivial either - breaching an IPNA can lead to a three month prison sentence for children aged 14 - 17. Such a sanction is in our view, extremely disproportionate.

Negative attitudes towards young people

Despite not being a law breaking activity, 'teenagers hanging around' has been the item which provokes the most continuous concern in the British Crime Survey from 2004 to 2009. We know from our work with children and young people that they regularly experience negative attitudes from adults in their community.

The Association of Chief Police Officers have warned that IPNAs "have the potential to be used inappropriately" and "unnecessarily criminalise" children.

Our decades of experience and practice in this area has shown that anti-social behaviour is often a symptom of children's unmet needs. Many children in trouble with the law are disabled or have learning difficulties.

High proportions have experienced neglect or abuse, been in care, excluded from school and/or largely come from disadvantaged backgrounds. We do not believe that criminalising these children will help to tackle the underlying causes of their behaviour.

ASBOs have been disproportionally used on young people. We are extremely concerned that by using an even broader definition of anti social behaviour, IPNAs will have an even more detrimental impact on young people, in particular those who may be vulnerable with additional needs.

Just four days to make the government listen

The petition currently has almost 5, 000 signatures but we need more.

On Monday the SCYJ will be presenting the petition to the Minister for Crime Prevention, Norman Baker MP, ahead of a crucial vote in the House of Lords on Wednesday where the changes we want can be made.

Please add your signature to the petition now and share it with as many of your contacts as you can through Twitter, Facebook or email. Adding your voice to the petition will allow us to prove to the Minister how important this issue is to us all.

Let’s tell the government we don't want our children to be punished for being children.

Sign the petition now!


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By Natalie Williams - Policy team

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