Introduction

Until recently, children's testimonies were regarded as generally unreliable. This view appears to have arisen from historical accounts of children giving false evidence such as in the Salem witch trials, and was perpetuated by the psychological research conducted early in this century which concluded that children are 'the most dangerous of all witnesses'.(1)

In the last 20 years, many societies have paid greater attention to children's rights and the importance of protecting children from abuse. As perpetrators of abuse have been tried in court, so more children have been called as witnesses. This has created the impetus for further psychological research into children's capacities to be accurate witnesses to criminal events, and, in the light of this, many jurisdictions are making allowances for children so that their testimony can be delivered in court as fully and accurately as possible.

It is no longer tenable to dismiss the capacity of a child to be a witness in court simply because of their age. Children may be less reliable, as reliable, or more reliable than adult witnesses, depending on a variety of developmental and environmental factors.(2) The main factors are outlined below.

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