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Rare child murder in Germany raises questions over punishment

A 13-year-old boy has confessed to killing another child of the same age in Germany. Police say the motive and the object used remain unknown. German law for under-14s perscribes supervision and not criminal punishment.

Police said the suspect had been sent to a psychiatric facility on Thursday after admitting hitting his friend Fabian over the head with an object.

Fabian had gone missing on Sunday, triggering a manhunt. Searchers found his body on Monday in the outskirts of the small town of Bad Schmiedeberg in the eastern German state of Saxony-Anhalt.

The case raises questions over culpability. Under German law, children under the age of 14 are not regarded as criminally liable. Responsibility lies instead with their parents, legal guardian or the local youth welfare office.

Liability from 18

Full criminal liability applies only from the age of 18.

"If convicted, the boy's actions won't pass without consequence," said Rudolf Egg, who heads the German Institute of Criminology in Wiesbaden.

"The age restriction doesn't mean that youths don't have a sense of guilt or don't realize what they are doing," he said, before adding that murders involving under-age juveniles occurred perhaps once a year in Germany, and, if so, usually between siblings.

Residents shocked

Bad Schiedeberg's mayor, Stefan Dammhayn, said residents were shocked, especially by the young age of the victim and the suspect.

"The town has 4,200 residents and at that scale people know one another," said Dammhayn.

District chief administrator Jürgen Dannenberg said neither of the two boys had previously come to the attention of authorities.

ipj, cw/msh (AFP, dpa)