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Violence Against Kids Targeted

President Clinton, taking new steps to combat violence against children, has proposed defining as murder the death of a child resulting from a pattern of abuse.

The proposal also would add criminal penalties for acts of violence committed in the presence of a child.

"One of the concerns that we have is too many people who perpetrate violence against children do not get adequately punished,"Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder, who is directing the new initiative, told CBS This Morning.

Holder said the $10 million earmarked for 12 cities is intended to produce models programs that other communities can use to combat violence against children.

"The reality is the vast majority of young people who are victims or witnesses to violent crime have to deal in the state and local system," he said. "We in the federal system can set example."

The president, who announced his Children Exposed to Violence Initiative in a Roosevelt Room ceremony with law enforcement officials, said a child who experiences serious violence is 50 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile and nearly 40 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult.

They also are at greater risk for substance abuse, mental illness, and suicide.

"If you want to keep the crime rates going down, you have to do more to break the cycle of violence to which children are exposed," he said.

"There is no excuse for us to lose any of our children, and if we keep working and we keep our children at the center of our concerns, we can make the 21st Century a much, much safer, better, more wholesome place for them than the last three and a half decades of this century have been," Mr. Clinton said.

The president's initiative has four main parts:

  • Proposed legislation that would make it easier for federal prosecutors to prove a felony murder charge involving the death of a child without having to prove it was premeditated. It also would define murder to include the death of a child resulting from a pattern of abuse, and set criminal penalties for committing acts of violence against others in the presence of a child.

  • Additional training to police, prosecutors, investigators and court personnel in ways to avoid unnecessary trauma and emotional stress on child victims and witnesses in abuse cases.

  • Aid to states and communities that develop projects involving mental health professionals and other members of the community who serve children involved in violent situations. Aid would also be available to projects that educate parents about abuse and neglect. To get this started, Mr. Clinton is making available $10 million in Safe Start grants from the Justice Department to help 12 cities reduce the impact of violence on young children.

  • Increased public awareness of the problem. The Justice Department will sponsor a national "summit" conference on children and violence in May 1999 tbring together experts in law enforcement, mental health, child development, and related fields to discuss the issue of child victimization.

About one-third of all victims of violent crime in the United States are teenagers, according to White House figures. Another 2.8 million children are abused or neglected each year, and almost 9 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 have witnessed serious violence.