There has been an intense debate on the matter of children as eyewitnesses. Different areas need to be considered when children are involved in various cases as eyewitnesses. The level of stress to which a child has been subjected as well as the childs competence are very crucial. In Australia for instance, childrens evidence is not used unless approved by a judge. In other courts of law, the judge has the role of first determining whether the child has an understanding the nature of the oath (Lyon, Scurich & Ahern, 2014). The child is then required to possess enough intelligence to comprehend and answer questions.
A study that was conducted showed that many people believe that the comparative immaturity that children possess greatly diminishes their responsibility and competence in answering questions about road accidents (Lyon, Choi, Scurich, Handmaker & Blank, 2012). The research hence showed that most people would use an adults testimony as opposed to that of a child. The study concluded that children in the six to ten age bracket are less critical witnesses than grown-ups. Many people are also of the belief that small boys have a high probability of inventing stories and not telling the truth (Oates, 2006).
To be able to ensure that children provide accurate eyewitness statements, it is essential for research to be carried out to identify the age groups of children that can be said to be great eyewitness groups and the age groups which may be seen as being not very reliable. Once a particular age group is seen to be unreliable in providing eyewitness statements, then children of this age bracket can be spared all the trouble of appearing in court. Conversely, children of a certain age bracket can then be identified as being reliable in providing eyewitness accounts just like adults. The identification of the right age at which children could be proper eyewitnesses is also essential because it will aid in counteracting prejudices that currently exist that support the notion that children are unreliable eyewitnesses.
Another step that is important in ensuring that children provide reliable and credible accounts of events is the development of skills that will aid in talking to children in these circumstances. Many legal professionals do not possess the skills needed when communicating with children in a bid to correctly understand the events that occurred in a given incident (Oates, 2006). It is therefore paramount that these professionals be trained on how they can communicate with the children to make them feel safe when talking about different situations and to help them remember various events that occurred which could be traumatic in some cases.
Research on childrens memory has shown that the visual ability of children, which is very closely linked to their memory, grows as their age increases (Lyon, Choi, Scurich, Handmaker & Blank, 2012). The schematic processing theory supports this concept since it argues that younger children are unable to record details of different occurrences in their memories since they lack the necessary schema need to link their different memories (Oates, 2006).
Therefore, even though they may fail to recall a lot of details of different events, their remembrance of events is usually accurate. Children who are aged between 6 to 8 years typically recall information just as accurately as adults do but the amount of information that they recall is usually considerably lower. Hence, to ensure that accurate eyewitness accounts are derived from children, it is important for the involved parties to concentrate more on the accuracy as opposed to the completeness of the childrens accounts (Lyon, Scurich & Ahern, 2014). Thus, the information provided by the children can be used in supplementing the information provided by adult eyewitnesses for the court to comprehend the entire event as it occurred adequately.
Another critical factor that should be considered in ensuring that the accurate information is received from the children is the ability to differentiate between real and imagined events by the children. Research has, however, shown that so long as children from six years old understand the event that occurred, they are not likely to confuse it with an imagined event (Thomson, 2005). Hence to ensure accurate results, it is essential for an analysis to be conducted on the child to establish whether they understand the event in question. If they fully understand what it entails, this means that the probability of confusing it with an imagined event is very low.
It is vital for research to be conducted on whether taking the child back to the environment in which the event occurred will aid in jogging the childs memory (Oates, 2006). If so, then children can be taken back to these environments, if it is deemed safe to do so, to ensure that they recall all the events that transpired.
Court appearances are sometimes very stressful for the children involved. Children may even become confused during these procedures which may, in turn, lead to inaccurate accounts of events, or the children may end up forgetting important details of the incidents. The children may even be very frightened when they see the defendant during court proceedings (Thomson, 2005). It is therefore important for measures to be put in place to minimize childrens stress levels as much as possible, in a bid to ensure accurate accounts from them. Incidentally, courtroom surroundings can be informal and relaxed when they have children as eyewitnesses. The parents should also support their children in such cases and cooperate with the court to ensure best results. Conversely, children can be examined by the judge and the opposing counsel in a different chamber from the one where the accused is.
A skilled therapist can also examine the child, and the interview recorded for later use as evidence in a court of law. Finally, older children can be involved in role play activities before the hearing takes place to enable them to be well versed with the entire process on the day of the court proceedings.
Therefore, it is clear that most people view children as poor eyewitnesses. However, the accuracy of the childrens accounts can be improved by ensuring that legal professionals are well trained on how to talk to the children. Moreover, the children can be involved in role-play activities to ease them into the interrogation process to reduce their anxiety and stress levels.
Lyon, T., Choi, K., Scurich, N., Handmaker, S., & Blank, R. (2012). How Did You Feel?: Increasing Child Sexual Abuse Witnesses Production of Evaluative Information. PMC, 36(5), 448-457.
Lyon, T., Scurich, N., & Ahern, E. (2014). Interviewing Children Versus Tossing Coins: Accurately Assessing the Diagnosticity of Childrens Disclosures of Abuse. PMC, 2(1), 19-44.
Oates, R. (2006). The Reliability of the Child as a Witness. International Society for the Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect, 243-246.
Thomson, D. (2005). Reliability and Credibility of Children as Witnesses. Children as Witnesses, 43-48.
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