Over the last thirty years, the idea of children as witnesses and the accuracy of their testimony has been widely debated. People are asking themselves if the memories of young children, specifically between the ages of five and ten, can be accurate and in return trusted. So, can children’s memory and testimony be accurate? Prolific amounts of research have been conducted in an attempt to answer this question. Most of the research suggests that unfortunately we can not rely on their accurate recall in testimony. I would have to say I agree with the findings.
The current anxiety about the validity of children’s testimony in court stems mostly from heavily publicized cases of child molestation during the 1980’s (Meyer, 1997). As a result of society’s reaction to dramatic increases in reports of abuse and neglect, children increasingly are being admitted as witnesses in juvenile and criminal proceedings (Ceci & de Bruyn, 1993). Each year hundreds of thousands of children in North America become entangled in the legal system. Often these children testify about the alleged actions of a parent, teacher, baby-sitter, relative or neighbor. And when this happens, the case is often decided on the basis of the relative credibility of the child versus the defendant. Regardless of whether such testimony is made in forensic interviews, during preliminary hearings, or at trial, it may result in life altering decisions for all involved (Ceci & Bruck, 1995).
The issue of children’s veracity is not new to the courtroom. There were cases in Puritan times in which youngsters’ testimony was responsible for the imprisonment and execution of a number of individuals accused of being witches (Meyer, 1997). Because of this, for both theoretical and practical reasons, many child psychologists, legal professionals, and others have long sought to understand more fully the extent to which young children are able to recall their experiences and to report on them accurately. As part of this effort, there has also been a great interest in learning more about the developmental course through which young children acquire the capacity (Stern, Stern, & Lamiell, 1999).
To thoroughly understand the subject, we must look closely at several aspects and effects of children as witnesses in the legal system. First, we must look at the cognition of children. We have to understand their mental development and comprehension, as well as their memory and recall abilities. Second, we must look at the affects of being a witness not only on the legal system but also on the child as an individual. Children could be further traumatized emotionally and physically by involvement as a witness. Finally, we need to closely look at how the legal system is set up and how well children fit into this system. Are witness procedures set up in a way that children can understand and accurately give their...