Police in Finland are increasingly investigating violent crimes in which the suspects are 15 years old or younger.
For example, officers in southwest Finland are currently working on a case where two underage boys are suspected of attempting to kill a 17-year-old, as well as two separate cases involving serious violent crimes suspected to have been committed by minors.
According to the police's latest crime statistics, the highest growth in violent crimes by age group was among under 15-year-olds. The age group has been suspected of involvement in more violent crimes in the first 10 months of this year than during all of last year.
Furthermore, the data revealed that reports of violent crimes committed by under-15s have more than doubled since 2014.
Number of assaults nearly tripled
In general, the number of violent crimes where the suspects are aged between 15 and 17 years old have been gradually falling throughout the 2010s, with the exception of a slight uptick between 2018 and 2020.
By contrast, the number of violent crimes where the suspects are under 15 has been steadily climbing since 2014.
"Criminologists do not know exactly what is causing the increase in the police statistics for this age group," according to Markus Kaakinen, a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Helsinki's Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy.
Researchers are particularly intrigued by the figures from 2019, when the number of suspected violent crimes committed by both under-15s and those aged 15-17 increased dramatically. Notably, the coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent effects on young people and youth marginalisation were not a factor in the increased figures, as the pandemic did not arrive in Finland until the following year.
"Of course, changes in violent behaviour are possible, but in the same way it is also possible that violence against young people is coming to the attention of the police more often than before," Kaakinen explained, adding that there may be other factors behind the rise in the official figures.
"This may indicate that there has been covert violence in the past that has not been included in the official statistics," he said.
The most common type of crime is assault, which since 2014, has undergone a threefold increase in suspects aged below 15 years of age.
The 'reported suspected crime' is a research tool commonly used in criminology. Although not all reports lead to convictions, they are thought to give the most reliable picture of the actual amount of crime, as most crimes never come to the attention of the police.
Kaakinen has called for a survey of under-15s about their experiences of violence.
"Research would be needed to see if this violent behaviour of people under the age of 15 has changed, and what is behind that change," he said.
Specialist: Relationship with violence has changed
Chief Physician at the University of Turku Hannu Lauerma told Yle he is concerned by the latest statistics on violent crime involving children under 15 years of age.
"It definitely sounds bad, and such signals should never be ignored. At the same time, however, we must bear in mind that there are considerable difficulties in interpreting violent crime statistics from one decade to the next," Lauerma said, calling for a proper, in-depth investigation to be opened.
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He further noted that a lowering of crime reporting threshold may have been influenced by a number of factors, citing as an example the fact that it is now possible to report law violations online.
On the other hand, Lauerma added, more attention has been paid to bullying in schools and the general attitude towards violence has changed greatly over the last few decades.
"In the past, boys' fights were considered to be a completely normative phenomenon, and it did not occur to many people to inform anyone about them," he said.
However, a study published earlier this year by the University of Helsinki's Institute of Criminology and Legal Policy showed that there are clear indications of an increase in serious acts of violence among young people.
According to researcher Kaakinen, there is also a clear difference between the under-15-year-olds and older kids.
"The number of reported victims under the age of 15 has also increased. The same increase has not taken place in the same way for 15–17-year-olds," Kaakinen noted.