Killing of pensioner by group of boys shocks Czech Republic

04-09-2004

The Czech Republic has been rocked this week by an unprecedented case in which police say six boys - the youngest of them only 11 - brutally killed an elderly woman. As Czechs come to terms with the shocking crime, questions have been raised about how to deal with young offenders.

The news shocked the nation: six boys, aged 11 to 15, are being questioned about the gruesome killing of an 81-year old pensioner. The boys are believed to have stabbed her to death with scissors before stealing less than 70 euros from her home. Here's one of the investigating police officers.

Human life has no value to them - one of them told us they'd assessed the situation on the spot, they realised the woman would recognise them so they decided to kill her.

The 34-year-old father of two of the boys has also been charged - he is alleged to have driven them to the victim's house, in a village in east Bohemia. Five of the six are now in children's homes - where most of them were before the killing.

Two have escaped many times in the past, and supervisors say there is little they can do to make sure the boys don't get out again. Czech Education Minister Petra Buzkova says change is needed.

We need to create a completely secure correctional centre to house the kind of children who would otherwise be in prison. In terms of their rehabilitation and future lives it would be better for them to be in a correctional centre than a classic prison. Of course such a centre would have to be completely secured against escape.

Only one of the six boys is over 15, the age of criminal responsibility in the Czech Republic. That's something which varies around Europe; for instance it's 10 in England and Wales, 13 in France and 14 in Germany.

With juvenile crime on the rise, Justice Minister Pavel Nemec says it may be necessary to reduce the age of criminal responsibility. Child psychologist Jarmila Knight, however, is not if favour.

It is not recommended by the Geneva Convention on Child Rights and I myself do not believe that it would significantly change the situation. The problem lies in not properly addressing the problems of children and the problems of society. I feel that a better solution would be to have more people to look after such children, people who are properly trained for the task. You need to deal with problem children before they begin committing serious crimes.

But it's not just psychologists and politicians who are concerned about increasingly violent young offenders; ordinary Czechs too are asking what can be done to halt this most unwelcome of trends.

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