The Minister for Justice, Simon Harris TD, has today secured Cabinet approval to publish the Criminal Justice (Engagement of Children in Criminal Activity) Bill 2023.
The Bill will, for the first time, create specific offences where an adult compels, coerces, induces or invites a child to engage in criminal activity.
Minister Harris is determined to protect children and teenagers from being coerced into a life of crime and the penalty on conviction is up to five year’s imprisonment.
The new offence will be a separate, prosecutable offence on top of the provisions in current law where an adult who causes or uses a child to commit a crime can generally be found guilty as the principal offender - meaning they can be punished as though they committed the crime themselves.
This will ensure the law will specifically recognise the harm done a child by drawing them into a world of criminality.
Welcoming this approval, Minister Harris said:
“The Government is committed to building stronger, safer communities and breaking the link the link between gangs and the vulnerable young people they seek to recruit.
“This legislation is aimed at preventing criminal networks from exploiting children to commit crime.
“Some children and teenagers are being deceived by criminal networks into believing crime can bring wealth, bling and a party lifestyle but in reality it brings debts, fear and potentially worse.
“Criminal behaviour and conviction can alter the course of a child or person’s life – damaging employment, education, travel prospects, damaging social connections and overall leading to more negative life outcomes.
“Children and teenagers can be more vulnerable to coercion or encouragement to get involved in crime and we need to protect against this.
“This Bill will outlaw the grooming of children into crime by making it an offence for an adult to compel, coerce, direct or deceive a child for the purpose of engaging in criminal activity, or for an adult to induce, invite, aid, abet, counsel or procure a child to engage in criminal activity.”
Minister Harris believes that one of the main benefits of this new legislation will lie in the ability it will give to An Garda Síochána to intervene locally to prevent offences taking place.
It will also be a significant contribution to Taoiseach Leo Varadkar’s drive to tackle child poverty and disadvantage and his ambition to make Ireland the best country in Europe in which to be a child
Today’s Cabinet approval follows Minister Helen McEntee progressing the draft law in recent years, including commitments in Minister McEntee’s Justice Plans to break the link between gangs and the children they try to recruit into crime, and Minister Harris intends to enact the legislation by the summer recess.
Minister Harris added:
"This legislation will send a strong message to communities that grooming children into criminal activity is not acceptable and can be tackled, and I hope to enact it by the summer recess.”
The Bill will provide an effective tool to help break that link between these children and the adults who control their offending, which in turn is likely to reduce offending by children in these circumstances.
The legislation has also been informed by the Greentown Project, which is being implemented by the University of Limerick in partnership with the Department of Justice and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth.
The aim of the project is to investigate the involvement of children in criminality and to establish interventions to tackle the problem. The Greentown Report showed that criminal networks in many areas operate coercive control over young children.
Notes to the Editor:
Important note: The text of the Criminal Justice (Engagement of Children in Criminal Activity) Bill 2023 was approved by Government on 17 January 2023, subject to such further changes of a drafting or technical nature as may be agreed between the Minister and the Attorney General.
The Department of Justice has collaborated for a number of years with the University of Limerick and the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth (DCEDIY) on the Greentown Project.
- The original Greentown research, conducted within the School of Law at the University of Limerick, has verified that criminal networks operating in many areas operate coercive control over young children.
- The aim of this project is to investigate the involvement of children in criminality and to establish interventions to tackle the problem. The Greentown Report showed that criminal networks in many areas operate coercive control over young children.
- ‘Greentown’ was the fictitious name given to an actual Garda sub-district outside Dublin. The study found that criminal networks play a significant role in encouraging children to engage in criminality.
- The National Prevalence Survey, carried out in 2017, used information data from the network of Garda Juvenile Liaison Officers and showed that the youth crime problems identified in the Greentown report in 2015 are not only confined to large urban areas.
- Similar to the original Greentown study, the survey findings also suggest that approximately one in eight of the children involved in the Garda Diversion Programme are being groomed into crime by predatory adults. This pattern has emerged across the country and is estimated to affect approximately 1,000 children nationally.
- In 2017, Victoria, Australia enacted the Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Act 2017 (Fagin’s Law). It created an offence of recruiting a child to engage in criminal activity. For a person to be found guilty of under Fagin’s Law, the offence committed by the child must be punishable by 5 years or more in prison, which limits coverage to offences at the upper end of the scale of severity.
- In 2016, as part of his tenth report as the Special Rapporteur on Child Protection, Professor Geoffrey Shannon recommended that Ireland introduce a similar offence.
- The Criminal Justice (Engagement of Children in Criminal Activity) Bill 2023 makes it an offence to engage a child in any type of criminal activity and therefore allows intervention by the authorities before the pattern of offending by a child develops to a point where it becomes serious.