What were the main forces which shaped growing public concern over the condition and problems of children and young people in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s

The murder of James Bulger sparked feelings of shock and outrage among the public. The perpetrators behind this barbaric crime were 10 years old which exacerbated the degree these feelings. Another similar case in Japan was the murder of 11-year-old Jun Hase by a 14-year-old boy aka youth A who also confessed to strangling a 10-year old girl and previously attacked two school girls ( Smith and Sueda 2008: 7). The children by children killings in both Japan were seen as the method for changes in the criminal justice system. They (Smith and Sueda 2008: 6) argued that these murders were indications of social crisis and failures of education and juvenile justice.

Davis and Bourhill (1997: 29) argued that the media portrays children in crime as either perpetrators or victims is seen as the core in generating and underpinning public perceptions of childhood and can be seen as an indication of destruction of innocence. It can be argued that the media also aroused concerns towards academic writers in the fields of criminology, sociology, psychiatry and psychology. Sociologists such as Cohen (1973 cited in Davis and Bourhill 1997: 29 – 30) argue that the media creates a plague of moral panic in the public sphere and cause a threat to values and interests held in mainstream society. Golding and Middleton (1979 cited in Davis and Bourhill 1997: 30) suggested three phases of moral panic. The first one is where an event may exacerbate the degree of panic. The second phase is about how hidden myths about the problems that emerges among the panic. For example, the child killing cases could reveal issues of poor parenting skills, lack of moral guidelines. Thirdly, is the governmental response towards these crimes. Hay (1995 cited in Davis and Bourhill 1997: 30) argue that a form of moral panic does not mean that audience are passive and are not easily manipulated developed knowledge through personal experiences.

The murder of James Bulger by two 10-year-old boys aroused concerns among academics. Archard (1993 cited in Davis and Bourhill 1997: 30) highlighted the separation of children from adults and as a result, may become vulnerable due to the lack of skills to aid their capability of adulthood. It can be argued that adolescence is an inevitable period of transition from childhood to adulthood with physical, psychological and emotional effects. On the case of Jun Hase, psychiatrists argue that the Kobe case in Japan especially the decapitation and the potential of suggested that the killer may suffer from psychosis (Smith and Sueda 2008: 10). Both cases illustrated that the education system was highlighted as one of the problems to be blamed particularly in Japan where teachers were concerned about their behaviour for a certain period of time. However, no effective measures had been implemented (Morrison 1998, Smith 1994 cited in Smith and Sueda 2008: 10). Masaaki Noda writing in 2000 suggested that both cases illustrated exposure to violent media images particularly through films and video games cause children to have false perceptions of reality.

It can be agreed with Morrison (1998 cited in Smith and Sueda 2008: 10) who believed that the children see human life as a light switch where once a person is dead they can be brought back to life where in the case of James Bulger is that forensic investigators discovered that batteries were inserted in his body. It was not only education as the target for blame; it was also broken families, poor parenting and their environment. It can be argued that delinquency stems from poor parenting and lack of boundaries and moral guidelines. However, this cannot be true as in the case of youth A, his cruel behaviour manifested since the death of his grandmother and during his school career where teachers noted that he was short-tempered and cannot distinguish between right and wrong. From the referral to the psychiatrist by his home-room teacher, it was concluded that his mother’s excessive strictness might be the root causes of his emotional instability (Smith and Sueda 2008: 9). Takamura and Noda (2000 cited in Smith and Sueda 2008: 11) viewed the juvenile killing as a symptom of the destruction of traditional values and video games and other media methods tend to replace traditional family ties in the socialisation process. They also argued that Japan lacks ethical standards and pornography and other explicit materials were available everywhere whereas in France, the culture shields children away from inappropriate material. Mihara (2006 cited in Smith and Sueda 2008: 12) argues that Japanese parents have doubts about the value of parenting and tend to seek approval from their adolescent children rather than acting as figures of authority.

Child abuse was not recognised until the 1980s and since then, soap operas, dramas and other entertainment such as films began to produce storylines which centred on child abuse (Davis and Bourhill 1997: 34). Child abuse comes in many forms, emotional, physical and sexual abuse. It can be argued that these forms of abuse may have a dramatic impact on a child’s development which could even last into adulthood. Franklin and Parton (1991 cited in Davis and Bourhill 1997: 35) noted that since the 1970s the media coverage of tragic murder cases of children killed by their parents or caregivers illustrated that these evidence provided an effective proof that child abuse could result in murder. The deaths of Maria Colwell in 1973, Jasmine Beckford in 1985 and Kimberly and Carlile and Tyra Henry in 1987 at the hands parents and stepfamilies were given substantial degree of media attention.

The faces of these children are plastered on front pages of the tabloids and social work textbooks etched the minds of the public, professionals and academics (Davis and Bourhill 1997: 35). It can be argued that sexual abuse are viewed differently from other forms of crime and sends a plague of bewilderment and ambivalence among the public and areas of academia. Davis and Bourhill (1997: 44) viewed that sexual abuse was considered as widespread and criticisms were made towards social workers, child protection and care professionals for negligence. It can be suggested that the occurrence of sexual abuse went beyond the condemnation of professionals, as children were viewed as vindictive liars and are likely to fabricate stories as Nigel de Gruchy, general secretary of the NASUWT quoted in the Guardian in March 1994: “Children are much more sexually aware than they ever were, and they’re are looking for things, and they know that if they can make an accusation then they can make the teacher pay for it, even if the accusation is totaly false and malicious and the majority of such accusations are”
Nigel de Gruchy could be criticised for not acknowledging that children are emotionally vulnerable and unable to give consent as they are bewildered and unaware of their surroundings.

Hay (1995 cited in Smith and Sueda 2008: 13) viewed the Bulger case as a powerful catalyst for new punitive penalising methods. Politicians and media observers believed that children are becoming more dangerous and violent. Explanations included breakdown of family relationships, lack of moral guidelines, discipline and the corrupting influence of violent media materials (Smith and Sueda 2008: 13). Scraton (1997 cited in Smith and Sueda 2008: 13) noted that authorities such as the Association of Chief Police Officers believed that the courts lacked control in dealing with persistent young offenders and power of establishment with liberal views were to blame because they over – emphasised welfare at the expense of discipline and punishment. The 1980s saw the emergence of populist punitiveness by politicians. Bottoms (1995 cited in Muncie 2002: 453) implies three explanations for this attractiveness of this new ‘disciplinary commonsense (Hall 1980 cited in Muncie 2002: 453). The first reason is the belief that increased punitive methods may be effective in reducing crime through deterrence and incapacitation. The second reason is that it could provide promotion of moral agreement and thirdly, because politicians were confident that New Labour would be elected (Newburn cited in Muncie 2002: 453).

New Labour’s influences on crime reduction connects with the Broken Windows thesis by James Q Wilson and George Kelling published in 1982 where they argued that crime and disorder usually associates with a form of developmental categorisation (Newburn cited in Muncie 2002: 453).Rehabilitation was another punitive measure which was applied in the murder cases in Britain and Japan where Sue Bailey, a psychiatrist specialising in adolescent forensic psychiatry writing in 1996 view that children who carry out these heinous crimes obtain a sense guilt and shame (1996 cited in Smith Sueda 2008: 17). She also regards guilt as the emotion of remorse and suggests that killers will go through a series of emotional conflicts and behaviour needs to be neutralised through combinations of art therapy and cognitive behavioural therapy and aims to promote victim empathy.

This essay concluded the murder cases in Britain and Japan illustrated similar political and public reactions. It highlights that Japanese values lacked moral boundaries and guidelines and value of parenting was not acknowledged. However, the Japanese Society highly emphasised  rehabilitation that concentrates on artistic interventions  to express emotional imbalance and psychotherapy which considers to be effective. This essay finally illustrates that the media through violence and video games plays a significant influence on the minds of children affecting their ability to distinguish from right and wrong.

Archard, D (1993) Children: Rights and Childhood, Routledge, London UK

Bailey, S (1996) ‘Sadistic and Violent Acts by Children and Young People’ in P. Cavadino (ed) Children Who Kill, pp. 25 – 37. Winchester: Waterside Press.

Bottoms, A.E (1995) ‘The philosophy and politics of punishment and sentencing’, in Clarkson, C and Morgan, R (eds) The Politics of Sentencing Reform, Oxford, Oxford University Press

Cohen, S (1973) Folk Devils and Moral Panics. St Albans Paladin.

Davis, H and Bourhill, M (1997) in Scraton, P, Childhood in Crisis Ch2

De Gruchy, N , The Guardian 19th March 1994

Franklin, B and Parton, N (1991) Social Work, the Media and Public Relations . London, Routledge

Golding, P and Middleton, S (1979) Images of Welfare.: Press and Public Attitudes to Poverty, Martin Robertson, Oxford. Oxford University Press.

Hall, S (1980) Drifting into a Law and Order Society, London, Cobden Trust

Hay, (1995). ‘Mobilisation through interpellation: James Bulger, juvenile crime and the construction of a moral panic.’ Social and Legal Studies, vol.

4, no. 1, 197-223

Mihara, Y (2006) Shonen Hanzai ro Shinteki Stohri (The Psychological Account of Juvenile Delinquency) Kyoto: Kitaoji Shobo

Morrison, B (1998) As If. London. Granta

Muncie, J (2002) Youth Justice: Critical Readings, Sage Publications.

Newburn, T (2002) in Muncie, J (2002) Youth Justice: Critical Readings, Sage Publications Ch31

Scraton, P (1997) Childhood in Crisis, London, UCL Press

Smith, D and Sueda, K (2008) The Killing of Children by Children as a symptom of national crisis: Reactions in Britain and Japan, Criminology and Criminal Justice. Sage Publication Vol, 8 no 5

Takamura, K and Noda, M (2000) ‘Japanese Society and the Psychopath’, in Masuzoe, Y (ed) Years of Trial: Japan in the 1990s, pp. 246 – 55. Tokoyo:  Japan Echo

Wilson, J.Q and Kelling, G (1982) ‘Broken Windows’, Atlantic Monthly, March, pp. 29 – 38




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