A recent incident at a home for children with behavioral problems where two teenagers brutally attacked their teacher with a screwdriver has sparked a debate on the criminal liability of minors with the education minister proposing tougher punishment for juvenile perpetrators of violent crimes.
The incident in the town of Králíky, in Silesia, has highlighted a serious problem in Czech society – growing aggression both in the classroom and in homes for children with behavioral problems. In the course of last year alone the authorities registered 68 physical attacks on teachers, 12 of them exceptionally serious. Education Minister Marcel Chládek said his patience was at an end.
“It is time for us to give teachers a special status and proper protection. We have seen them attacked, punched in the face and beaten up. What are we waiting for –to see someone killed? This incident demands action and we are not going to correct the situation by a week-long ban on bedtime stories. I am going to push for legislation that will open the way for tougher punishment –be it of minors or their parents - for acts of brutality and aggression.”
The minister wants to take a leaf out of Slovakia’s book where the authorities gave their teachers protected status five years ago and moved to tighten the laws on crimes committed by minors. The move which would have to win approval in the government and Parliament, has sparked a heated debate in the country with proponents of repression versus those advocating re-education and special care at loggerheads. Child psychologist Lucie Kovářová says the situation requires a combination of both.
“A fourteen-year-old knows that attacking the teacher with a screwdriver may cause him grievous bodily harm and thereby he should be punished. So, yes, I would agree with lowering the age limit of criminal liability. The age of 12 or 13 as the limit is absolutely OK with me. And there is another thing. In these institutions the children often see the world as “we who are forced to live there against them who care for us”. In other words the state and this institution is our enemy. This should be addressed and it must be changed because as long as these children are seen as “those who need to be fixed” we are just creating another generation of criminals.”
The age of criminal liability is fifteen in the Czech Republic. Under the present legislation the two boys – aged just under 14 who stuck a screwdriver in their teachers neck –narrowly missing his jugular vein - and brutally beat up a female teacher who witness the incident do not face serious punishment. According to the institution’s lawyer they could miss outings or have their pocket money taken away. Lucie Kovářová says the norms should be tightened not just for the minors but for their parents who are ultimately responsible for them.
“This does not start when they are 14 –it starts when they are 3, 4 or 5 years old. And I think parents should be held responsible for their children’s behavior. Like in Slovakia where when kids create problems and their parents don’t control them they stop getting benefits. So I think that parents here should have more responsibility, more competences and ultimately bear the consequences of failing as parents.”
The Education Ministry is now considering possible amendments to the law and should present them to the cabinet by the start of the summer.