Research on 'Children who kill' presented at international conference

Posted on August 28, 2015

Ms Melanie Moen, a lecturer in the Department of Early Childhood Education and PhD student in the Faculty of Education at the University of Pretoria (UP), presented a part of her doctorate research, namely an in-depth analysis of children who commit family member murder, at an international conference on psychology and law held in Nuremberg, Germany. The conference, which took place from 4–7 August, was organised by the European Association of Psychology and Law (EAPL) in celebration of its 25th anniversary.

The event attracted researchers, practitioners and policy makers from all over the world and Ms Moen’s presentation elicited great interest.  In her introduction she shared some shocking statistics from South Africa:

  • Our murder rate is five times the global average of 6,9 per 100 000 people;
  • In 2013, 47 people were murdered per day;
  • 70%–80% of all murder victims and perpetrators know one another;
  • 24,9% of all murders are committed by a relative or member of the household;
  • Aggressive crimes by children in South Africa increased by 12% between 1995 and 2011.

She also cited an actual case of a 15-year-old girl who had murdered her parents and sister. ‘This crime and similar cases grab our attention and cause us to question family structures and modern day society. Family murder is however not a new phenomenon. Consider the Biblical account of Cain and Abel,’ she said.  

She explained that empirical research on violence-related crimes related specifically to children is limited and that murder is seen by many as the most serious of all crimes. It has a serious human and social impact on society and puts pressure on mental health institutions and the criminal justice system.

She hopes her research will help change this situation by providing the knowledge to assist in understanding, predicting and preventing violent behaviour in children and young people. She also aims to provide insight that could inform policy, theory and practice.

The main purpose of Ms Moen’s study is to explore, interpret and understand the unique life worlds of children who commit family member murder and ultimately to contribute to the body of knowledge about children who commit violent crimes. During her on-going research, she will consider the following questions:

  • Why do children commit family member murder?
  • Which events are identified by these children as having led them to commit family member murder?
  • What are the individual factors that contribute to a child’s committing family member murder?
  • What are the systemic factors that contribute to a child’s committing family member murder?
  • Does a typology exist in respect of children who commit family member murder?

Ms Moen is planning a qualitative research study of 12 to 15 subjects who were convicted of family member murder while under the age of 25. She will most likely conduct her research in prisons and non-custodial correctional facilities throughout South Africa. As some of the subjects did not receive custodial sentences, they will have to be contacted through lawyers and social workers.

Ms Moen will be working under the supervision of Prof Irma Eloff, Dean of the Faculty of Education at UP, and Prof Christiaan Bezuidenhout of the Department of Social Work and Criminology at UP.

- Author Myan Subrayan

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