In New Zealand much has been written on the violent deaths of
Michael Choy, Kenneth Pigott, Leslie Austin, Marcus Doig, John Vaughn, Duncan
Taylor and Tanya Burr. Tragedies made more senseless by the fact that they were
killed by children -– teenagers who should be enjoying the freedom of youth not
the grim prospect of prison, custodial care and in all probability a life of
The callousness with which they committed their crimes
engenders little sympathy for these baby-faced killers. We are not dealing with
"good kids" some of them already had long histories of antisocial behaviour,
petty crime and drug (alcohol) abuse.
It would be wrong to find excuses for their actions. These
children are solely responsible for the lives that they took and the suffering
visited upon those who are left to mourn the loss of a loved one.
They remain however, for all the horror of their actions,
children, and as a community we are accountable for bringing about a change for
the better. It is doubtful that institutionalising these children, or inflicting
greater punishment is going to rehabilitate them or deter violent offending by
other juveniles. Stronger sentencing for juvenile offenders is a knee-jerk
response that does nothing to address the underlying causes of their delinquency
or prevent the juvenile offenders of the future.
Biblically we are called to admonish our children and
corporal punishment is effective when used with understanding and knowledge.
Apply your heart to instruction and your ears to words of
knowledge. Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the
rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death. Proverbs
When read in context it is not a simple matter of spare the
rod and spoil the child, we must first apply our heart to instruction and our
ears to knowledge. Discipline and punishment can only be effective if it is
administered with knowledge, which means that vengeful punishment is unlikely to
save the soul from death. If our purpose is to seek the salvation of the child
then the solitary application of the rod will not work -– if it did the
delinquency of our youth could be easily remedied and capital punishment would
deter murder along with the trafficking of heroin in Thailand.
There is no doubt that our children must be made accountable
for their actions and we can not shirk from our responsibility of discipline and
admonishment. It is important however to understand how the child will interpret
that punishment and will it bring about the change that we so desperately seek.
God acknowledges that from childhood we are all prone to
wrong doing . : "Never again will I curse the ground because of man,
even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never
again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. Genesis 8:21
Therefore as we grow from child to adult we learn the social
norms for acceptable behaviour, confidence, trust, faith and hope are all
learnt. Importantly we build a value base from which we can make the right
choices. Once again these values are best taught within the family, but a common
thread for all these children is that they either came from dysfunctional homes
or had parents who were not skilled enough to effectively discipline their
children. In the latter case the parents may have cared but they took the wrong
options and there was no external support available.
A more enlightened approach would seek to integrate our
delinquent youth offenders back into our community. This path requires far more
work than increasing custodial sentences. There would need to be an ongoing
cooperative and coordinated approach with agencies such as Children Young
Persons and Family, the Police, the Schools and Community Groups. The target is
not solely the young person, it also involves their families, their friends,
their school and the community. There is no point in helping the child if there
are issues within the home that may stem from abuse, violence or simple
overcrowding. If the home and school environment can be stabilised with an
enforced participation in the community either through sports clubs or civically
focussed projects, with the whole process carefully monitored then it is
possible that the lives of these children can be changed.
Showing that we care, will provide the opportunity to plant
God's seed within the hearts of these troubled children. A true-life change
cannot be achieved without that seed, and the understanding that the love of
ones neighbour is the bond that can hold our community together.
1 John 3:9 No one who is born of God will continue to
sin, because God's seed remains in him; he cannot go on sinning, because he has
been born of God. This is how we know who the children of God are and who the
children of the devil are: Anyone who does not do what is right is not a child
of God; nor is anyone who does not love his brother. Love one another. This is
the message you heard from the beginning: We should love one another.