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Thursday, September 26, 2013

'Naming and shaming' laws - what could possibly go wrong?

Queensland's Attorney-General, Jarrod Bleijie, has announced new 'name and shame' laws in which children as young as 10 years old will be publicly 'named and shamed' if convicted of crimes.

Naming is one thing. But shaming? Shaming is rather subjective. It's personal. What happens if the young criminal isn't shamed by being named? What happens if the young criminal is actually proud of being named? Will they be charged with contempt of court? Will they charged with something like 'failure to be shamed', or at the very least 'failure to appear shamed'.

It's just a thought.

These laws don't just name and shame young offenders, they also result in rejection from the community.

Considering that children are impulsive and rarely, if ever, consider the consequences of their actions. Does Bleijie really think a 10 year old will think of him before doing something that seems like a fun idea at the time. Children do not have the same ability as adults to rationalise good from bad, let alone contemplate consequences.

According to Bleijie, the purpose in naming juvenile criminals is to shame them. Why? Because negative reinforcement and rejection works so well with children. We all know how children love being told that they are bad. They thrive on it. It's the kids who are pampered with love, kindness and positive reinforcement that turn to crime to prove they aren't goody-two-shoes. Don't they? Isn't that how it works?

Children are very impressionable. So driving home how bad they are through 'shaming' them, is only going to reinforce the very behaviour the Government is attempting to counter.

And then there is the issue of litigation. Mr Bleijie has publicly stated that the laws are to 'shame' children. Shame is a negative feeling that can cause emotional and mental distress. Admitting that the laws are designed to shame, Bleiji is admitting to deliberately attempting to cause emotional and mental distress. Surely at some point, one of the targets of the 'name and shame' laws is going to lawyer up and sue the State for deliberately causing harm to children.

In fact, 'naming and shaming' could be a form of child abuse, leading to rejection, teasing, bullying and criticism. All activities that are named as emotional abuse in the Queensland Government's own booklet called 'Child Abuse - What you need to know'. This book points out that responses to abuse include 'delinquency and criminal behaviour, drug and alcohol abuse, low self-esteem, increased fear, guilt and self-blame, distrust of adults, suicidal thoughts and self-harming, aggressive behaviour'.

Yep. Government-sanctioned public shaming of children. What could possibly go wrong?

Here's a thought. Tell a child over and over again that they are a criminal and what sort of life do you think they will grow up to have? When they picture their future, I'm tipping that they won't be picturing a life of university studies and working on saving the world. No. I'm tipping they will be seeing themselves as never having a job and instead, having to resort to crime to survive.

These are lazy laws. Lazy because they will achieve nothing while appearing as though the Government is tough on crime. These laws are useless. In fact, they are worse than useless. they are dangerous, because if anything they will reinforce bad behaviour and set the foundation for a life of crime. Nothing like drumming home to a 10 year old that they are rejected and reviled; a criminal with no future.

There are enough laws in place to punish children who commit crimes. For children, detention should always be a last resort because of the possibility of institutionalising them to a life crime, rather than rehabilitating them.

The Government that Bleijie is a senior member of has significantly cut front-line child safety services and slashed funding to government and non-government child welfare agencies.

Instead of compounding the effects of criminal behaviour by publicly naming and shaming children, the Government should be investing money in child safety agencies, facilitating better school attendance, positive counselling for children and parents, and communicating inspirational messages of a great future for children who behave well and commit to being nice to others.

I guess it's easier to criminalise and marginalise, than protect, nurture and inspire.

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