Gang-rape by boys aged 12 and 14 prompts call for Germany to lower age of child criminality

The gang-rape of an 18-year-old woman by boys aged 12 and 14 in Germany has led to calls for the country’s age of criminal responsibility to be lowered.

Children under 14 cannot be charged under the justice system in the country.

But there have been calls for that to change after a pair of 12-year-olds and three 14-year-olds were arrested in North-Rhine Westphalia on suspicion of rape.

A police spokesman said the attack, in the city of Mülheim last week, involved “considerable violence”.

The victim, who was found in bushes, was taken to hospital and later allowed home.

The five suspects, which German media reported were Bulgarian, were suspended from school.

But police were unable to charge the 12-year-olds, who were sent home.

Only one of the 14-year-olds appeared before an investigating judge.

Prosecutors said he was known to police for sexual harassment on two other occasions but had not been old enough to be prosecuted.

He was arrested because of concerns he could become a repeat offender, police said.

After their release, Rainer Wendt, head of the police force union, said his group had been demanding for years that the age of criminal responsibility be lowered. He argued it should be set at 12.

But the German Association of Judges disagreed. “The equation ‘more criminal law equals less crime’ does not affect the young,” said Jens Gnisa, chairman of the group.

The German Child Protection Association also opposed lowering the criminal age, saying youth welfare offices should investigate the causes of a child’s behaviour.

The age of criminal responsibility varies around the world.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland children as young as 10 may be held criminally liable.

Jon Venables and Robert Thompson were both 10 when they killed two-year-old James Bulger in 1993, which many have cited as an argument to keep the law as is.

There has been pressure to raise the age, after the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended in 2007 an “absolute minimum” age of 12, stating any younger would not be internationally acceptable.

In Thailand, Myanmar and Singapore it is set at seven, according to the Child Rights International Network.

Along with Germany, the age is 14 in countries including Austria, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Italy, Japan and South Korea.