In response to the upsurge in violence in Jerusalem in recent months, which has resulted in hundreds of minors being arrested, police attorneys are considering proposing legislation that would allow parents to be held legally liable for crimes committed by children under age 14.
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One idea under discussion is that parents whose children are arrested for stone-throwing could be slapped with fines totaling thousands of shekels or even prison terms. Police attorneys are discussing this idea with prosecutors and representatives of the Attorney General’s Office.
Effectively, this proposal would replicate a military order in effect in the West Bank, where Palestinians under age 14 cannot be held legally liable for crimes, but their parents can be ordered to post financial guarantees that would be forfeited if the offense is repeated, and can be jailed if they refuse to pay. Inside Israel, parents can currently be asked to post bond only to ensure their child shows up for a scheduled court appearance, not as a guarantee of the child’s future behavior.
Ever since Jerusalem teenager Mohammed Abu Khdeir was murdered by Jews in July, violence by Arab residents of the city has risen sharply, resulting in a sharp rise in arrests. As Haaretz has previously reported, some 700 people were arrested in Jerusalem in the two months after Abu Khdeir’s murder, including 260 minors, and since then, the numbers have only risen. Moreover, when minors have been charged, the state has usually asked that they be jailed until the end of their trial.
But police say a large portion of the minors involved in the disturbances are under 14, and therefore cannot be indicted. Consequently, a senior police officer said, there’s no way to deter them from engaging in further violence. The proposal to make their parents legally liable is an effort to change that.
This isn’t the first time the idea has arisen. In February 2011, two Knesset members submitted a bill that would make parents of minors who engaged in violence liable for a fine of 1,000 shekels ($265). That bill, which ultimately didn’t pass, wasn’t aimed primarily at Palestinians, but at teens who got into fights at nightclubs and other public places.
“The basis for this bill is the educational philosophy that parents must take responsibility for and be an active part of their children’s lives, including knowing where their children are at night, what they are doing and whether they have a weapon that could be misused,” wrote the sponsors, former MKs Ze’ev Boim and Zeev Bielski.
But the bill sparked strong opposition, particularly from welfare professionals who said that “often, parents are trying unsuccessfully, to the extent of their limited ability, to prevent these negative phenomena,” according to a report by the Knesset’s research center. “The Social Affairs Ministry’s position is that there’s no place for holding parents responsible for crimes committed by their children or for punishing them for their difficulties and failures in functioning as parents.” Instead, social workers argued, these parents should be helped to cope with their children better.
Another argument raised by the bill’s opponents was that children involved in such violence often come from less well-off families, for whom a fine would be a heavy burden and seriously harm the entire family.
Many other Western countries do hold parents legally liable for their children’s actions. In many American states, for instance, parents can be jailed for their children’s crimes, and the same goes for some European countries.
But in most of these countries, a parent can be punished only if the state proves he was negligent in supervising his child and that this negligence contributed significantly to the crime being committed. No such requirement exists under the military order in place in the West Bank, and the proposal now being considered by the police also doesn’t appear to include any requirement that the state proves parental negligence.
“We want to bring about a situation in which a parent who knows that at 11 P.M. stones or fireworks were thrown at policemen will immediately check that his 12- or 13-year-old child is at home,” one police source said. “If he doesn’t do this and doesn’t bring his child home, he should know he will be the responsible party who will be punished.”