CANBERRA – Children of mothers who drank alcohol excessively or smoked during pregnancy were at greater risk of becoming a juvenile delinquent, an Australian research has found.
The results of Australia’s first study of delinquent behavior were released by the Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) on Tuesday, which revealed a range of factors that put children at risk of early-onset criminal behavior.
Dr. Ben Edwards from the AIFS said while only one in 10 children aged between 12 and 13 engaged in criminal behavior, the risk was greater to children who had been exposed to excessive drinking, smoking and poor parenting.
He said children living in less-affluent areas were at greater risk of committing juvenile crime.
“The study confirmed that only a small proportion of children and adolescents get caught up in crime and delinquency like stealing, damaging property or skipping school that might attract the attention of authorities,” Edwards said in a statement released on Tuesday.
“(But) we found that mothers who smoke during pregnancy were more likely to have children who were at risk of criminal behavior later on and having a mother who consumed alcohol to a risky level or who had been injured or ill, when their child was aged 10-11 were among other risks.”
Edwards told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) that the link between smoking during pregnancy and juvenile criminal behavior could begin as early as in the womb due to neuro-behavioral development.
“There is some research that suggests it’s associated with the neuro-behavioral development suggesting that sort of ADHD or attention hyperactivity disorders at greater levels. But this is the first study we’ve identified this,” he said.
Edwards added that fixed demographic factors also played a role in influencing the criminal behavior of young children, saying that if a child was “male, Indigenous or they lived in urban areas,” they were at a greater risk of displaying delinquent tendencies.
But he said the study revealed that good parenting from a young age kept children out of trouble.
“Safeguards that appeared to protect children (from criminal activity) included having higher levels of intelligence, a more even temperament and fewer social and emotional problems,” he said.
The AIFS surveyed 5,000 Australian families from many socio-economic backgrounds and discovered fighting, truancy and destruction of property were the most common crimes for those aged 12 to 13 to commit.