Children as Witnesses

Motzkau, Johanna (2020). Children as Witnesses. In: Cook, Daniel T. ed. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood Studies. Canada: SAGE.



This entry considers children as witnesses in a legal context, i.e. where they testify, as part of criminal legal proceedings, and about events they are assumed to have experienced in their past, leaving to one side their participation in other types of civil or family law proceedings (including immigration law). It will not address children as witnesses of personal, historical or political events more generally (e.g. persecution, war or natural disaster).

The majority of child witnesses called in criminal proceedings today are also victims of the alleged crime, which most frequently is a form of violence (including domestic abuse) or sexual exploitation. Against the backdrop of an historical outline, the entry will capture the key challenges children face as witnesses and consider questions about children as reliable and credible witnesses and the implications for legal practice. These issues prove to be relevant to their participation in those other contexts.

Finally, it will give brief examples of international differences in child witness practice. Please note that the majority of the literature about child witnesses relates to jurisdictions in minority world countries, which thus form the backdrop of this entry.

More diversity in this field is crucial and it is hoped in future a broader picture will emerge with a wider range of knowledge and practices being shared internationally.

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