Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor

Fundamentals of Criminal Law by Adam J. McKee

Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor is a legal term that, in plain English, refers to adults encouraging or assisting minors to engage in illegal or immoral activities. Such activities might include truancy (skipping school without permission), committing crimes, or using drugs or alcohol. In essence, if an adult knowingly helps or causes a minor to break the law, they may be charged with this offense.

Harm the Legislature Seeks to Prevent

The primary concern surrounding this offense is the well-being and moral development of children. Society recognizes the importance of raising responsible and law-abiding citizens. By ensuring children have a safe, nurturing environment, they are more likely to grow up into adults that positively contribute to society.

When adults contribute to a minor’s delinquency, they not only put the minor at risk but also pose a broader risk to the community. Encouraging illegal behavior can lead to escalating criminal activities as the minor grows up, thereby affecting public safety and increasing crime rates.

Moreover, there’s an inherent imbalance of power and influence between adults and children. Adults are viewed as figures of authority, and children often look up to them for guidance. Misusing this authority to lead children astray is seen as a breach of the trust the community places in adults.

Classification of the Offense

In most legal codes, contributing to the delinquency of a minor is classified as a misdemeanor. However, the penalties can vary based on the severity of the encouraged offense and the adult’s relationship with the minor. In some situations, if the encouraged act is particularly grave, the responsible adult might face more severe penalties or even additional charges.

Broader Categories of Criminal Offenses

The crime of contributing to the delinquency of a minor primarily falls under crimes against persons, especially when considering the potential emotional, physical, and psychological harm to the minor. However, depending on the nature of the induced behavior, it can also touch upon crimes against property (e.g., if the minor is encouraged to vandalize or steal).

Historical Trace of the Offense

Historically, societies have always emphasized the protection and proper upbringing of their younger members. Ancient codes, such as the Code of Hammurabi, held parents responsible for their children’s actions, implying an expectation that parents would guide their children away from wrongdoing.

Sir William Blackstone, an influential 18th-century English jurist, touched upon related subjects in his Commentaries on the Laws of England. Blackstone wrote about the principle of parens patriae, which emphasized the role of the state as the guardian of minors. This notion indirectly supports the idea that society has a vested interest in ensuring minors are not led astray.

It’s also worth noting that common law often reflected societal values, emphasizing the protection of vulnerable members, including minors. As societies evolved, so did their laws, with more modern statutes specifically addressing the act of contributing to the delinquency of a minor.

Model Penal Code (MPC) Definition 

The Model Penal Code (MPC) provides a comprehensive framework for understanding and classifying various criminal acts. Although not all jurisdictions have adopted the MPC verbatim, its influence is widespread.

MPC’s Approach to Delinquency of a Minor

The Model Penal Code (MPC) lacks a distinct section titled “Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor.” Yet, the MPC addresses aspects of this issue within specific sections. To be precise:

  1. Endangering the welfare of a child (§ 230.4): An adult may be charged if they knowingly direct or authorize a child to engage in an illegal occupation or service.
  2. Corruption of minors (§ 251.2): This provision can charge an adult if they entice or encourage a minor to commit a felony.
  3. Furnishing alcoholic beverages to minors (§ 224.7): An adult is liable if they knowingly provide or make alcohol accessible to individuals under legal age.

The abovementioned sections reflect the MPC’s commitment to shielding minors from detrimental adult influences and ensuring their welfare.

Defenses as Per the Penal Code

The MPC recognizes various defenses to criminal charges. Regarding contributing to the delinquency of a minor, potential defenses might include:

  1. Lack of Knowledge: If an adult can prove they were unaware of the minor’s age or the illegality of the minor’s actions, it may serve as a defense.
  2. Act of Necessity: In rare cases, an adult might argue they contributed to the minor’s delinquency out of immediate necessity, such as life-threatening situations.
  3. Absence of Intent: If the adult did not have the intention to induce the minor into unlawful activities, it might mitigate their liability.

It’s important to remember that the availability and success of these defenses can vary depending on jurisdiction and the specifics of each case.

Elements of the Crime

For a crime to occur, certain elements must be present. Breaking down “Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor” yields the following components:

  1. Mens Rea (Guilty Mind): The adult must have the intention or knowledge that their actions would lead or could lead to the minor committing an illegal act.
  2. Actus Reus (Guilty Act): The adult took a concrete action that contributed to the minor’s delinquency, such as providing them with drugs or tools for a crime.
  3. Concurrence: The guilty mind (intent) and the guilty act occurred together.
  4. Causation: There must be a direct link between the adult’s actions and the minor’s delinquency.
  5. Harm: The minor engaged in illegal or harmful activities as a result of the adult’s influence or assistance.
  6. Attendant Circumstances: External factors that might be relevant, such as the minor’s age or the nature of the induced act.


“Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor” refers to adults enabling or urging minors to partake in unlawful or immoral activities, which can range from truancy to drug use. The main legislative concern is safeguarding children’s moral development, aiming to cultivate future responsible citizens. The violation is typically classified as a misdemeanor, but specifics depend on the gravity of the induced act. This crime predominantly falls under “crimes against persons” due to potential harm to minors but can also relate to property offenses. Historically, legal systems emphasized protecting youth, as seen in ancient codes and prominent legal commentaries like Blackstone’s. The Model Penal Code (MPC), while lacking a specific section on this crime, addresses related aspects, delineating offenses and potential defenses concerning minors’ welfare.


  • Blackstone, W. (1765-1769). Commentaries on the Laws of England (4 vols.). Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Hammurabi. (c. 1754 BC). Code of Hammurabi.
  • American Law Institute. (1985). Endangering the welfare of a child. In Model Penal Code (§ 230.4).
  • American Law Institute. (1985). Corruption of minors. In Model Penal Code (§ 251.2).
  • American Law Institute. (1985). Furnishing alcoholic beverages to minors. In Model Penal Code (§ 224.7).
Modification History

File Created:  07/17/2018

Last Modified:  10/11/2023

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This work is licensed under an Open Educational Resource-Quality Master Source (OER-QMS) License.

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