The six-day jailing of a 13-year-old Texas schoolboy last week for a violent Halloween essay may have sparked headlines around the world but it struggled for national attention here. Christopher Beamon was by no means the first 13-year-old to find himself behind bars or the first to be jailed for a 'terroristic threat' against classmates or teachers. The rising number of children who find themselves jailed - sometimes among hardened adult criminals - is something that confounds America's allies and provides ammunition for those nations which oppose its self-proclaimed international leadership on human rights. Just as Christopher was being released into the arms of his mother in semi-rural Denton outside Dallas, another 13-year-old was in a more extreme plight in Pontiac, Michigan. Nathaniel Abraham is considered possibly the youngest American ever to face trial for first-degree murder. Recent changes to state laws mean he is being tried as an adult and faces life imprisonment - the toughest term in Michigan. His defence lawyers claim he has a mental age of six. Nathaniel reportedly sits in court dazed and impassive as the prosecution describes the day more than two years ago when he allegedly fired a battered, stolen .22 calibre rifle out of some trees and killed a stranger, 18-year-old Ronnie Green, who was walking to a store about 60 metres away. He faces a second charge of assault with intent to murder after firing unsuccessfully at a neighbour. He has admitted firing the weapon but said he was merely shooting at the trees. Police describe him as a calculating killer who boasted to girls in the playground that he was going to shoot someone and point to his long record of purse-snatching, assault and carrying weapons to school. Amnesty International in the US is battling to use the case as another example of why the country's leadership must take a long, hard look at its criminal-justice system and the way it ignores international conventions on child rights. Amnesty said the trial 'makes a mockery of justice and constitutes a violation of international human rights standards for the protection of children'. The case is one of hundreds under way in which children - legally anyone under 18 - can be tried and sentenced as adults after 46 states changed their laws as part of a crackdown on youth crime. One study late last year suggested 2,500 children were in jail among adults out of more than 11,000 thought to be serving full sentences in prisons and correctional institutions and 200,000 facing action in general criminal courts. Some had been in solitary confinement while others had faced hard labour and beatings, rights groups said. On Thursday, a Texas jury needed just two minutes before condemning to death for rape and murder a 17-year-old, Bruce Williams, who, his lawyer said, had the mind of a child. Williams becomes the youngest death-row prisoner in the state. Also last week, the Supreme Court refused to consider the international ban on the death penalty against juveniles in the case of a man facing the death penalty in Nevada for a murder committed when he was 16. Lawyers for Michael Domingues argued that his plight violated US obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The US ratified the covenant in 1992 but defended its right to execute youngsters and remains one of the last to do so - something that critics in countries such as Vietnam regularly point to in domestic publications. Saying that Domingues was one of 70 youths on death row, Amnesty warned that 'the Supreme Court has missed a golden opportunity to bring the US into line with the rest of the world'. 'Instead it will have deepened the perception that the US is a country which proclaims itself the world's most progressive force for human rights, yet picks and chooses its way through international human rights standards to suit itself.' Amnesty said the last four known child executions had been in the US. Ordinary US citizens, however, speak of less lofty goals as they examine the rights and wrongs of the crackdown on youth crime, reflecting an administration that must also juggle the rights to self-government of 50 states. Letters to northern newspapers last week expressed sympathy for the predicament Nathaniel faced but warned of a worsening perception of youth crime and feelings of powerlessness in the community. There is also the 'zero tolerance' to signs of hate in young people following the massacre at Columbine High School in Colorado in April when two youths killed 12 classmates and a teacher before committing suicide. 'Street-wise crime lords have long skirted the archaic 'juvenile age' cut-off laws by manipulating the younger generation in committing crimes,' warned Norman Bledsoe in the Detroit News, echoing an apparently common view. 'Over time these kids learned on their own how to work the system . . . prosecute any person for committing any crime. Then, and only then, bring that person's age, mental state and prior convictions and social enigmas into play.'