Page last updated at 11:34 GMT, Monday, 17 November 2008

UK society 'condemning' children

Youths in Bristol
The public's perception of children is a negative one, says the survey

More than half the population believe UK children behave like animals, a survey has suggested.

Half of the 2,021 adults interviewed by YouGov also felt children were increasingly a danger to others.

Children's charity Barnardo's, which commissioned the study, said society "casually condemned" children.

It is behind an awareness campaign, with a stark internet advertisement showing adults hunting "vermin", which turn out to be children.

The advert, intended to show how society demonises young people, was launched on 17 November. A second - different - advert will be launched for TV on 24 November.

The survey asked people whether they agreed or disagreed with statements about children.

About 54% of the adults questioned thought that British children were "beginning to behave like animals".

More than a third of those surveyed also agreed that "it feels like the streets are infested" with children, while 43% said something had to be done to protect adults.

Around 49% said they disagreed with the statement that children who "get into trouble" were "misunderstood" and needed professional help.

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Children being hunted in the Barnardo's advert

The charity also examined comments left on stories published on the websites of several national newspapers.

Staff found messages where children were described as "feral, cruel and ruthless" and were said to "wander in packs".

The charity's chief executive Martin Narey said the British population was guilty of labelling all children in the same way.

He said: "It is appalling that words like animal, feral and vermin are used daily in reference to children.

"Despite the fact that most children are not troublesome there is still a perception that today's young people are a more unruly, criminal lot than ever before.

"The British public overestimates, by a factor of four, the amount of crime committed by young people.

"The real crime is that this sort of talk and attitude does nothing to help those young people who are difficult, unruly or badly behaved to change their ways."

'Unfair treatment'

The charity claimed that the attitudes revealed by its study reflected the results of the latest British Crime Survey.

This sort of talk and attitude does nothing to help those young people who are difficult, unruly or badly behaved to change their ways
Martin Narey
Barnardo's chief executive

These showed that people blamed children for up to half of all crime when in fact they were responsible for only 12% of criminal activity.

Last month, the United Nations said there was a "general climate of intolerance" towards British children and this could result in them being treated unfairly.

Barnardo's has also published a report called Breaking the Cycle.

The report stated that children who carried out illegal and anti-social behaviour were those most in need of support.

It also claimed that young people who became involved in criminal activity came from the most deprived families, had the poorest educational experiences and were more likely to suffer from poor health.

Mr Narey said the charity was not "naive" and accepted a "minority of children" were anti-social and committed crimes.

He said action had to be taken to prevent those at risk of criminal behaviour from following that path.

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