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Parental liability means that parents are legally accountable for their children’s act. While a “parent” may be anyone who exercises control or authority over the child, generally a custodial parent is the one held criminally responsible for a child’s acts.  Parents who are lawfully liable can be prosecuted for criminal charges or civil lawsuits. There are two types of action for which parents can face liability: -

  • Torts
  • Illegal crimes

Generally, parental liability applies on a minor. After attaining the age of 18yrs, it usually ends.

Civil Parental Liability

Parents can face civil suits if their children commit malicious acts. Like an employer and employee relationship, parents may be held responsible for their children's actions under vicarious liability even if they are not responsible for the injury caused. Most of the civil lawsuits brought against are for financial damages.

Criminal Parental Liability

The concept of criminal parental liability is similar to that of civil parental liability but of more serious nature that are in violation of criminal laws. Parents can be held criminally liable because they have not executed their parental responsibility to keep their kids from breaking the law.

For example - the parent of the juvenile thief is not charged for the crime of theft but for letting his child commit it by failing to exercise proper parental supervision.

Reasons of Juvenile Crimes

No one is a criminal by birth. Circumstances and situations make him so. Socio-cultural environment, both inside and outside of the home, plays an important role in shaping one’s life and overall personality.

Some of the most common reasons which are associated with juvenile crimes are:

  • Poverty;
  • Drug Abuse;
  • Anti-social Peer Group;
  • Easy availability of firearms;
  • Abusive parents;
  • Single-parent child;
  • Nuclear Family;
  • Family Violence;
  • Child sexual abuse and
  • Role of Media.

As far as India is considered, it is Poverty and the ill-effect of media, especially the social-media which makes juveniles more prone to criminal activities. Abusive parents also play a major role in leaving a negative imprint on young minds.

Crime by juveniles is a harsh truth in India. In recent times, juveniles are found to be involved in most heinous of the crimes such as murder and gang rape. It’s a disturbing trend and society is anguished by such criminal acts by children.

In the countries like The United States, The UK, Singapore and France, the laws in India do not have any particular provision to deal with the parental liability that hold parents or legal guardians responsible for illegal activities of their minor children, such as underage driving. Parental vicarious liability arises out of a parent’s responsibility to control and educate a child. Parental Accountability Laws are based upon two theories: -

  • Parents have a legal and moral duty to prevent their children from committing crimes.
  • Parental accountability is an effective way to decrease juvenile crime rates.

It is a duty of parents, at common law, to prevent their children from causing harm. When a parent knows that their child has a propensity to act recklessly or carelessly, the parent may be expected to take reasonable steps to prevent that child from causing foreseeable harm to others. For example - Suppose a parent knows that his/her child has brought fireworks and lights them without taking precaution for the safety of others. So, the parent has a note of this kind of behaviour but fails to do anything to stop it. If the child then causes an accident by recklessly lighting off fireworks, the parent could be considered negligent in failing to take reasonable steps to control the child's behaviour. So, parents are responsible for: -

  • Negligent Supervision- This assumes that the parents knew about the child’s behaviour and did nothing to prevent the child’s actions.
  • Negligent Entrustment – This states that when one party negligently provide another party with a dangerous instrumentality and the entrusted party caused injury to a third party with that instrumentality.

What provokes a child to become delinquent?

Counsellors and school authorities blame bad parenting for it. Most of these children come from families who were unable to give them a firm foundation. So, in the view of this, advocates remark that holding mother and father responsible for the crimes of their children is a good public policy. Such legal framework will reduce juvenile crime and will motivate adults to become "better parents" on the pain of facing serious penalties.

Other perspective of imposing a fine or jail term on a parent found civilly or criminally liable may serve to worsen the problem at the root of the youth crime, namely poverty and inadequate parental supervision and support. So, laws could have unwanted effects.

For example - Low-income families particularly single-parent would be targeted disproportionately. Poverty - stricken parents tend to work for extended hours and have less time to take care of their kids. A parent may avoid responsibility by proving that a child did not wilfully or intentionally commit an act, that the child was institutionalized. Parent may claim that they do not have “guardianship” of the child when the criminal act was executed.

So, Parent Liability laws have both advantages and disadvantages and depending upon the socio-cultural environment of India, legislators have to decide

Whether Parent Liability Laws will ensure greater justice to a victim or grave injustice to parents?

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Category Family Law, Other Articles by - Vartika Mittal