The case of Luise, a girl who was stabbed to death by two of her peers in Freudenberg/Germany, has left many speechless and wondering what could have led to this.

Read also:German schoolgirls confess to fatal stabbing of 12-year-old

Children killing other children is an extremely rare phenomenon and it is even rarer for those under the age of 14. But even among adolescents, such cases are few and far between. As is so often the case, there is no general answer that would explain all of these occurrences.

The reasons behind such violence can vary, as Gilbert Pregno, psychologist and president of the Human Rights Committee, explains.

A history of domestic violence might be at play, Pregno says, "but I also know that these are often situations of great loneliness." However, since there were two culprits in the case of Luise, Pregno speculates that they may have egged each other on, but stresses that there are "many reasons." The psychologist also points out that due to the particularly shocking circumstances, this case receives a lot of attention, "but we shouldn't conclude from this that this is something that is happening all the time."

While there are children with a history of problematic behaviour, Pregno argues that these cases do not necessarily have to involve "problematic or difficult" children, adding that "these things can happen out of nowhere." In any case, it appears that the number of reports about children or young people becoming murderers has increased lately. Does this mean that this form of violence is on the rise?

The president of the Human Rights Committee explains that people are naturally shocked by these stories because the culprits are children. This strong emotional reaction can leave them with the impression that these things are happening more frequently. That being said, Pregno notes that for many years, there has been a clear downward trend regarding criminal behaviour among adolescents. The only increases have been recorded in acts of incivility, rudeness, and petty delinquency, "but the other cases have dropped significantly." Pregno admits that this is difficult to convey because these isolated murder cases are at the top of people's minds.

The problems faced by children and adolescents also reflect larger changes in society as a whole, according to the psychologist.

Pregno finds that "there are a lot of deficits among children and young people in relation to their family, their parents, because the latter no longer regard education as a priority." The psychologist stresses that "children need a strong bond to develop their personalities," adding that "we live in an extremely fast-paced society, to the point where we don't even notice when a child is suffering." Pregno also regrets that it takes very long for children to receive treatment in Luxembourg.

Situations in which children cross certain lines can be very challenging for parents and their reactions can vary widely. While some outright reject their own child, others try to justify the actions. But particularly when it comes to underage culprits, it is important that parents continue to support them, even if they recognise the heinousness of the act, according to Pregno.

How would such a case be handled in Luxembourg?

Our colleagues from asked Minister of Justice Sam Tanson to explain the current legal situation in the Grand Duchy. According to the Minister, there is a 1992 law called Protection de la jeunesse ("protection of the youth") that covers both children in need of protection and children who have committed crimes. The law differentiates between 12-year-olds and 13-year-olds. It is up to a judge to decide whether a minor who has committed a crime should, for instance, be transferred to the Security Unit ("UNISEC") in Dreiborn. Such a decision is then regularly re-evaluated to determine how long it should apply. Tanson notes that the judge may also take other measures, depending on the individual case.

Due to obligations, including international commitments, Luxembourg will introduce a minimum age in the future. The UN Children's Rights Committee recommends an age of 14 years, or even above: 15, 16 years.

The Minister explains that the government initially wanted to follow this recommendation. However, following "a lot of comments" from the judicial authorities on the original draft bill, the Ministry of Justice decided to honour their concerns and is now proposing a minimum age for liability of 13.

However, this does not mean that 13-year-olds will be treated the same as adults. "From the age of 13, a very specific procedure will apply that is derived from adult penal law but includes less severe punishments," Tanson explains. For children under the age of 13, a "pure protection procedure" will apply. This means that a judge can only take measure to protect the child, which can, however, include taken the child away from their family and placing them under specific care, as is already the case in Germany today.

Read also:Age of criminal responsibility should not be lowered to 13

How would such a case unfold step-by-step?

Simone Flammang is a lawyer and provides a detailed overview of how a case like the one that recently occurred in Germany would be handled in Luxembourg. The police would of course be the first on site, "seeing as a body has been found and there are signs of a violent crime." The police would then inform the public prosecutor's office, which would have to decide how to proceed with the investigation.

At this point, two things would start at the same time: first, the crime has to be solved. To do this, the prosecutor would most likely request an examining magistrate to open an inquiry. The reason for this, according to Flammang, is that the authorities need various authorisations to solve a crime. "An autopsy would have to be done, we'd need experts to weigh in, the police would have to hear witness testimony, and they would have to make sure that the two young girls really are the culprits and not an adult," Flammang explains.

On the other hand, the question arises: What to do with the two presumed culprits? First, the police would have to make sure that they no longer present a danger to others but also that they themselves are safe. For Flammang, a closed facility, like UNISEC or maybe a closed psychiatric ward, would be the obvious choice.

Such a measure would have to be regularly re-evaluated by the responsible juvenile court judge, who would base their decisions on additional information. According to Flammang, the judge would order the Central Service for Social Assistance (SCAS) to conduct a social investigation about the environment of the girls: What is their family life like? What is their social situation? How are they doing in school? Are there any issues in one of these areas? Flammang thinks the judge would likely also order a paediatric psychiatrist to write a detailed assessment of the girls' mental state to gather as much information as possible to determine: What could have led to this horrific crime?

Once the examining magistrate has finished their investigation, the public prosecutor's office forwards the case to the juvenile court.

The girls would then have to answer for their crime. Flammang explains that it would ultimately be up to the juvenile court to decide the consequences for the crime they committed. These consequences would take the form of a "youth protection measure," which can potentially be extended into adulthood. In theory, such an extension could be up to 20 years after someone turns 18. However, Flammang notes that she is not aware that such a measure has ever been implemented in practice.

However, this decision would not be final. According to Flammang, the judge can always change the decision taken by the juvenile court to adapt it to the current circumstances of the minors "to ensure that the measure helps them as best as possible to eventually become responsible adults in our society."