A row has erupted over MPs' calls to raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old.
A group of politicians from all three major parties argue that increasing the age will give youngsters a chance to turn their lives around.
But critics hit back and said it would make children MORE vulnerable.
Labour's Fiona MacTaggart and Conservative backbencher David Burrowes argue the age should be raised to bring Britain "in line" with the European average.
The group's chairman, Labour peer Jean Corston, said many children over 10 were victims themselves who grew up in "chaotic and abusive" homes.
She said they should be given support and help to turn their lives around instead of being arrested.
Baroness Corston said: "Children who are arrested at age 10, 11, 12 and 13 have very often grown up in chaotic and abusive home environments and are simply acting out what they have seen at home.
"If they have been taught that violence is the answer to problems, drugs are a useful crutch and stealing is acceptable, we cannot expect these young children to behave differently.
"I heard of one terrible case where a nine-year-old was given strong cannabis by his parents, smoked 20 cigarettes a day and regularly got drunk on vodka and cider.
We mustn't be surprised when children who have been treated like this go on to offend.
The proposal would mean that children such as Jon Venables and Robert Thompson, who were 10 when they murdered toddler James Bulger in 1993, would not face prosecution.
Last year offenders aged between t10 and 14 committed more than 40,000 offences. Some 5,600 10 and 11-year-olds go through the criminal justice system each year, with the majority given a reprimand or final warning.
Criminologist Dr David Green of the Civitas think tank attacked the proposals: "The age of criminal responsibility is about right. I do not agree with this argument that children aged 10 do not know right from wrong.
"It is true that children can be drawn into gangs but often the gangs are taking advantage of the fact that leniency will be shown to young children.
"If you raise the age of criminal responsibility it could make children more vulnerable because they would become more useful to the gangs."
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: "The Government is not considering raising the age of criminal responsibility. It believes children aged 10 can differentiate between bad behaviour and wrongdoing."