An eight-year-old girl was videoed beating a puppy in Stephenville, Texas. All the evidence is there for a successful prosecution for animal cruelty under Texas animal welfare laws but the police were disinterested in the matter. The video went viral and a discussion started as to why the police are inactive on this. As I see it, it has to be about what I’d describe as “the age of criminal responsibility”. Put simplistically, it is deemed impossible for a child under the age of ten to have mens rea which is a Latin term meaning criminal intent. A child of this age does not have the mental capacity to decide what is wrong or right to an extent where the behaviour is criminal. That’s what the adults believe.
The Texas code on general principles of criminal responsibility actual refers to the age of 15:
Sec. 8.07. AGE AFFECTING CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY. (a) A person may not be prosecuted for or convicted of any offense that the person committed when younger than 15 years of age except: ……
And also refers to age ten:
(e) A person who is at least 10 years of age but younger than 15 years of age is presumed incapable of committing an offense described by Subsection (a)(4) or (5), other than an offense under a juvenile curfew ordinance or order…..
I am oversimplifying because legal stuff is boring but generally, the world over, no matter what country we are referring to, the age of ten is about the threshold for criminal responsibility.
However the law on this has some flexible and discretion and it is up to the prosecution to argue that someone aged under ten was aware that their actions were wrong. Previously a ten-year-old child in Texas was charged under the criminal law for beating a puppy to death. Ten was just over the threshold and the crime more serious.
The child’s parents were unaware of the beating dished out by their daughter. They are no doubt mortified and the puppy belonged to someone else. The puppy has been removed from the home of the owner I believe although I am not sure where to; perhaps a foster carer or a shelter.
The story begs the questions as to how this child developed an obnoxious form of behaviour. It is likely to have been learned from observation and the most likely person she would have observed would have been her parents, either one of them or both.
It informs us how incredibly important it is to break this cycle of destructive animal cruelty within families where generations of children and parents perpetuate cruelty against companion and wild animals.
The attitudes of children become truly entrenched and they can live a lifetime of attitudinal problems towards animals. It is almost impossible to correct this later in life. And there are millions of kids like this.
Something needs to be done about it. In this case, if the police aren’t able to get involved perhaps social workers should investigate and interview the parents. There should be some sort of structured procedure within child welfare services to deal with this and try and get the girl to unlearn what she has learned (if that is the case).
A humane attitude towards animals amongst all people needs to be fostered if we are to improve animal welfare. It is about education. Is enough being done to provide this form education?
My thanks to Elisa for pointing this story out to me and you can read her more detailed version. Also a previous article by her about kids killing cats is a similar topic and this link goes to more than one story on this subject including Elisa’s.
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