There is No “Order in the Court” in a Child’s Eyes

Mother and Daughter Talking to LawyerAnnually, there are about 100,000 children who go on the witness stand in the US. Children undergo legal proceedings for various reasons. They may be witnesses to a violent crime or a victim of maltreatment, abuse, or neglect. Or, they may be asked to take the stand in a volatile divorce case. This kind of contact with the legal system is often a negative experience for children.

The Courtroom can Pressure Children

In cities like Long Island, a no-fault divorce can be filed. In this case, children don’t have to testify. But, in other circumstances, children are brought in family courts for divorce trials or custody hearings. They are asked to testify against a parent, even though they naturally don’t want to. Alternatively, a judge can talk to the children alone. Still, this can be overwhelming.

Criminal courts are more intimidating to children, though. These settings often apply pressured upon a child to answer questions they don’t quite understand. The unfamiliar faces of the judge, the jury and the lawyers may make them anxious, too.

The Courtroom can Confuse Children

Children don’t have a grasp of the concept of law. They cannot comprehend courtroom jargon. Additionally, the memory and communication skills of children are not yet fully developed. It’s challenging for children to accurately retell a story and answer questions.

As they don’t completely understand the weight of their statements, children witnesses may distort or leave out details. At times, they give inconsistent reports.

Although children can be reliable witnesses, their suggestibility can discredit them. As witnesses, children are more easily swayed and influenced, sometimes making their accounts inaccurate.

The Courtroom can Traumatize Children

Many time, a child witness relives a traumatizing experience in the courtroom. This results in their tendency to alter the story and leave out the disturbing details of such. Also, being in the same room as the defendant may cause a panic attack. Victimized children witnesses may hesitate to give statements because they fear for their safety.

The legal proceeding may cause emotional turmoil and mental angst to children witnesses.

If there is a need for children to testify in court, parents and child psychiatrists should support and protect them. The courtroom is a generally stressful place – more so to children. Because they are vulnerable, this experience may trouble them for a long time. The law should be considerate in their well-being throughout the process.