Minimum Ages of Criminal Responsibility in Africa

As part of CRIN's policy work on the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR), we monitor these ages around the world. This page provides detailed information on MACRs in Africa.

If you are aware of any inaccuracies or reforms underway to amend the relevant laws, please contact us at info@crin.org

Algeria

Children under the age of 13 can only be sentenced to protection and education measures. [Penal Code, Article 49]. However, the measures applicable to children under the age of 13 include those that amount to deprivation of liberty for children as young as 8 in re-education centres administered by the Ministry of Justice. [Summary record of 1057th meeting of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, 14 September 2005, CRC/C?SR.1057, 31 July 2013, para. 91]

Angola

No person can be held criminally responsible for an offence allegedly committed while under the age of 14 [Penal Code, Article 17(1)]. The minimum age was lowered from 16 when the Penal Code 2006 came into force despite criticism from the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. [UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations on Angola's combined second, third and fourth periodic reports, CRC/C/AGO/CO/2-4, 19 October 2010,  paras. 73 and 74.]

Benin

No child under the age of 13 can be convicted of a criminal offence, though guardianship or education measures may be taken against younger children [Ordonnance No 69-23 PR/MJL du 10 juillet 1969 relative au jugement des infractions commises par des mineurs de dix huit ans, Article 23.].

Botswana

Children under the age of 14 are presumed incapable of committing a criminal offence unless it can be proved that at the time of committing the offence, “the child had capacity to know that he or she ought not to do so”[Children's Act 2009, Section 82(1)]. No one can be held criminally responsible for an act or omission carried out while under the age of 8. A person under the age of 12 is presumed incapable of having “carnal knowledge” which prevents the prosecution of younger children for certain sexual offences [Penal Code, Section 13].

Burkina Faso

No person can be held criminally responsible if they were under the age of 13 at the time of the alleged criminal offence. A child older than 13 but younger than 18 cannot be subject to educational and safety measures if he or she acted without discernment [Code Pénal, Sections 74(1) and (2)].

Burundi

No one can be held criminally responsible for an offence committed while under the age of 15 [Code Penal du Burundi, Loi No. 1/5 du 22 Avril 2009 portant revision du code penal, Article 28.]

 

Cameroon

Children younger than 10 years old cannot be held criminally responsible. The relevant age is that at which the alleged offence was committed. [Code Pénal, Article 80(1)]

Cape Verde

Persons under the age of 16 cannot be held criminally responsible. [Criminal Code, Article 17]

Central African Republic

A child under the age of 14 can only be subject to reform measures set out by a law specifically for younger children. [Loi No. 10.001 portant code penal Centrafricain, Article 9.]

Chad

Children under the age of 13 cannot be convicted of any criminal offence. [Loi No 007/PR/99 Portant procédure de poursuites et jugement des infractions commises par les mineurs de treize (13) à moins de Dix huit (18) ans, Article 22.]

Comoros

The minimum age of criminal responsibility in Comoros is complicated by the overlapping of the Penal Code and Sharia law. Under the Penal Code, no child under the age of 13 can be held criminally responsible, but under Sharia law, legal majority is achieved for boys when they reach physical maturity (14 to 15).[ See Cipriani, Children's Rights and the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility, Ashgate, 2009, p. 194-5]

Congo, Republic of the

Children under the age of 13 are presumed to be incapable of infringing the criminal law. [Loi No. 4-2010 du 14 juin 2010 portant protection de l'enfant en République du Congo, Article 73. See also Criminal Procedure Code, Article 686.]

Congo, Democratic Republic of the

Under the Law on the Protection of the child, children's courts cannot hold children criminally responsible for an offence committed while under the age of 14.[ Loi No. 09/001 du 10 janvier 2009 portant protection de l'enfant, Article 95.] During the States review before the UN Committee of the Rights of the Child, however, the Committee expressed concern that children under the age of 14 were being charged with criminal offences because of the State's failure to implement this legislation.[ UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding observations on the second periodic report of the Democratic Republic of the Congo, CRC/C/COD/CO/2, 10 February 2009, para. 90.]

Cote d'Ivoire

Children under the age of 10 cannot be held criminally responsible.[Loi No. 60-366 du 14 novembre 1960 portant code de procédure pénale, Article 116]

Djibouti

Children under the age of 13 can only be subject to “protective measures, support, supervision and education” for committing an offence. Children aged 13 or older are sentenced under the Penal Code. [Penal Code, Article 32.]

Egypt

No child under the age of 12 can be held “criminally responsible” as defined in national legislation, but the Child Court is empowered to order children to be “reproached”; delivered to parents guardians or custodians; placed in a specialised hospital; or placed in a social care institution from the age of seven if the child has committed a felony or misdemeanour. [Child Law]

Equatorial Guinea

Insufficient information was available on Equatorial Guinea. The State has reported to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that the minimum age of criminal responsibility was 16 years, but CRIN has not been able to verify this information. [CRC/C/SR.990, 31 janvier 2005, para. 18]

Eritrea

Children under the age of 12 cannot be held criminally responsible for their actions.[ Transitional Penal Code, Article 52. Also see, Combined second and third periodic report of Eritrea to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/ERI/3, 23 October 2007, para. 335.]

Ethiopia

No person under the age of nine can be held criminally responsible.[Penal Code, Article 52.]

Gabon

Children can be held criminally responsible from the age of 13. [Code Penal, Loi No. 21/63 du 31 mai 1963, Article 57]

Gambia

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is 12.[Children's Act 2005, Section 209.]

Ghana

A child under the age of 12 years is considered incapable of committing a criminal offence.[ Criminal Code, Section 26]

Guinea

Children under the age of 10 cannot be subject to criminal prosecution and children under the age of 13 may only be subject to protective measures, educative and supervision measures. [Code Penal, Article 64]

A child between the ages of 13 and 16 can only be sentenced to imprisonment where he or she is judged to have acted with discernment. [Code de L'Enfant Guinéen, Loi L/2008/011/AN du 19 Aout 2008, Article 345]

Guinea-Bissau

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is 16 [ Código Penal Guineense, Decreto Lei No. 4/93, Artigo 10]. CRIN has not been able to locate information on whether children under this age can be subject to measures that amount to deprivation of liberty.

Kenya

No one under the age of eight can be held criminally responsible. A child over the age of eight but younger than 12 can only be held criminally responsible where he or she had the capacity to know that he ought not to do the act or make the omission at the time of the alleged offence.  A male person under the age of 12 is presumed to be incapable of having carnal knowledge, a provision that prevents the prosecution of younger boys for certain sexual offences. [Penal Code, Section 14(1) and (2)]

Lesotho

No child under the age of 10 can be prosecuted for a criminal offence. A child aged 10 to 14 can only be prosecuted where an inquiry magistrate is satisfied that “the child possesses the capacity to appreciate the difference between right and wrong and has the ability to act in accordance with that appreciation.” The onus is on the prosecution to prove beyond reasonable doubt that a child has this capacity. [Children's Protection and Welfare Act 2011, No. 7 of 2011, Section 79(1) - (4)]

Liberia

A “juvenile delinquent is a juvenile who has attained the age of seven but is younger than 18 [Juvenile Court Procedural Code, Section 11.11(b)]. A child under the age of seven is considered incapable of being “a delinquent” [Juvenile Court Procedural Code, Section 11.1. As per American Bar Association Africa Law Initiative and United Nations Children's Fund, Assessment of the Liberian juvenile justice system, July 2006] However, in national terminology, a person is not considered “criminally responsible” for his or her behaviour while under the age of 16 [Penal Code, Section 4.1]. A “juvenile” is defined as any person under the age of 18 [Juvenile Court Procedural Code, Section11.11(a).].

Libya

Children can be held criminally responsible for all offences from the age of 14, though only if capable of discernment. A child aged over seven but younger than 14 cannot be held criminally responsible in the same way as an older child, but can be subject to “preventive measures” which include detention in a juvenile education and guidance centre.[ Penal Code, Articles 80 and 81. See Second periodic report of Libya to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/93/Add.1, 19 September 2002]

Madagascar

A child under the age of 13 cannot be held criminally responsible [Ordonnance No. 62-038 du 19 septembre 1962 sur la protection de l'enfance, Article 35]. Children aged 13 to 16 can be held criminally responsible, but the court has discretion in this regard [Ordonnance No. 2-038 du 19 septembre 1962 sur la protection de l'enfance, Articles 44 and 46.]

Malawi

A child under the age of seven is not criminally responsible for any act or omission. A child older than seven but younger than 12 can only be held criminally responsible if it can be proved that at the time of the alleged offence he or she had capacity to know that he or she ought not to do the act or make the omission. A male person under the age of 12 is presumed to be incapable of having carnal knowledge, a provision that prevents the prosecution of younger boys for certain sexual offences. [Penal Code]

Mali

Children under the age of 13 are conclusively presumed not to have the capacity to commit a criminal offence. A child aged 13 to 18 can only be held criminally responsible where he or she acted with discernment. [Ordonnance No. 02-062 /P-RM du 5 juin 2002, Article 98.]

Mauritania

No one can be held criminally responsible for an offence committed while under the age of seven.[ Ordonnance No. 2005-015 portant protection pénale de l'enfant, Article 2]

Mauritius

There is no clear or overt minimum age of criminal responsibility in Mauritius. The Criminal Code Act allows for children under 14 to be subject to criminal measures if they have “discernment” but no lower age limit is set. Children who do not have discernment can be subject to deprivation of liberty, but not criminal conviction. [Criminal Code Act, Sections 44 and 45.]

Morocco

A child under the age of 12 at the time of an alleged offence cannot be held criminally liable. [Penal Code, Article 12; Criminal Procedure Code, Articles 138 and 458]

Mozambique

Note: as of the time of writing a new Penal Code was under consideration in Mozambique, but at the time this report was finalised the Code had not been enacted.

There is no clear minimum age of criminal responsibility in Mozambique. Children under the age of 16 are subject to the jurisdiction of the Juvenile Court [Penal Code, Article 42 in conjunction with the Statute of Legal Aid to Minors], which is empowered to impose penalties amounting to deprivation of liberty.[ Decreto No. 417/71 Aprovo o Estatuto de Assistência Jurisdicional aos Menores do Ultramar, Artigo 16.]

Namibia

Note: at the time of writing, the Child Care and Protection Bill had not been enacted, but if this legislation entered into force, it would substantially reform the law with regards to the sentencing of child offenders [The Child Care and Protection Bill is available at: http://www.unicef.org/namibia/CCPA_FINAL_DRAFT_COMPLETE_clean_copy__09june_2010__sent_9_July.pdf].

Children under the age of seven cannot be held criminally responsible. A child older than seven but younger than 14 can only be convicted of an offence if the State can prove that the child knowingly intended to do wrong and understood the consequences of the wrongful act [First periodic report of Namibia to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/3/Add.12, January 1993, para. 40].

Niger

Children can be held criminally responsible from the age of 13, but can only be subject to protection, assistance or re-education measures where they lack discernment [Penal Code, Article 45.].

Nigeria

The minimum age of criminal responsibility varies among Nigerian states. The federal Children’s Rights Act 2003 does not specify a minimum age of criminal responsibility, but it defines a child as under 18 and states that a child in conflict with the law must be dealt with under the Act. The Children and Young Persons Law defines a child as under 14 and a young person as aged 14-16. It sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at seven but states that children below that age who have allegedly committed a crime must be brought before the Juvenile Court. It provides for special measures for persons under 16 in conflict with the law, but persons older than 16 are tried as adults.

In the southern states, the Criminal Code Act 1916 sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at seven. The Criminal Procedure Act 1945 defines an infant as under seven, a child as under 14, a young person as aged 14-16, a juvenile offender as under 17 and an adult as aged 17 and over. In the northern states, the Penal Code 1960 specifies that seven is the minimum age of criminal responsibility and categorises juvenile offenders as those under 17. According to the Sharia laws, children are eligible for hadd (for which the prescribed punishment is mandatory) and qisas (punished by retaliation) punishments from the age of puberty. [Constitution of Nigeria, Article 175(1).]

Rwanda

Children can be subjected to criminal penalties from the age of 14. [Penal Code, Article 77]

Sao Tome and Principe

Children under the age of 16 cannot be held criminally responsible. [Penal Code, Article 19]

Senegal

There are no provisions permitting criminal penalties for children under the age of 13. [Penal Code, Article 52.]

Seychelles

A person under the age of seven cannot be held criminally responsible for any act or omission. A Child older than seven but younger than 12 can only be held criminally responsible if he or she “had the capacity to know that [he or she] ought not to do the act or make the omission.” A male under the age of 12 is presumed to be incapable of having carnal knowledge, a provision that prevents the prosecution of younger boys for certain sexual offences. [Penal Code, Section 15.]

The State reported to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 12, but this provision remains in force, so it is possible for younger children to be subjected to criminal penalties. [Initial report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/3/Add.64, 3 May 2002, at IX.A.1. The administration of juvenile justice]

Sierra Leone

No child can be held criminally responsible for his or her actions while under the age of 14. [Child Rights Act, Section 70.]

Somalia

Somalia's legal system is divided between that of Somaliland, which unilaterally declared its independence in 1991, and the rest of the country. This legal divide has a marked effect on sentencing provisions for child offenders, so the two regions are treated separately.

South / Central Somalia and Puntland

In South/Central Somalia and in Puntland, the Somali Penal Code 1962 sets the minimum age of criminal responsibility at 14 and provides for reduced punishments for persons aged 14 to 17, but it also authorises sending children under 14 to reformatories. The Juvenile Courts and Reformatories Law 1970 defines a child as under 14 and a young person as 14 to 17. It states that a juvenile court has exclusive jurisdiction to hear and determine cases relating to children and young people in relation to any offence except murder and repeals inconsistent laws [Penal Code.]. However, it is possible that this law has never been brought into force, and a new juvenile justice law is reportedly being drafted in Puntland [see http://www.reliefweb.int/rw/res.nsf/db900SID/OCHA-7VJAVD, accessed 21 February 2011].

Somaliland

In Somaliland, the Juvenile Justice Law 2007 puts the age of criminal responsibility at 15 and harmonises the provisions of secular, Sharia and customary laws [Reported at http://www.unicef.org/somalia/reallives_5434.html, accessed 21 February 2011].

However, the Law has not been fully implemented and much of the work of the lower courts in criminal justice matters, especially involving children, has until very recently been carried out by regional security committees. During the 1980s, sentences handed down by these committees included life imprisonment and the death penalty, though more recently they appear to have been less draconian. Claims that the committees are lawful under the Public Order Law 1963 are disputed, as is the extent to which that law is still in force. [Human Rights Watch (2009), “Hostages to Peace": Threats to Human Rights and Democracy in Somaliland, New York: Human Rights Watch; A/HRC/15/48, 16 September 2010, Report of the independent expert on the situation of human rights in Somalia, Shamsul Bari, paras. 38 and 40].

South Africa

A child who commits an offence while under the age of 10 is not considered to have criminal capacity and so cannot be prosecuted. A child who is older than 10 but younger than 14 is presumed to lack criminal capacity unless the State proves otherwise. In order to prove that a child has criminal capacity, the State must demonstrate beyond reasonable doubt that the child was able to appreciate the difference between right and wrong at the time of the commission of the alleged offence and to act in accordance with that appreciation. [Child Justice Act 2008, Section 7 and 11.]

South Sudan

A child under the age of 12 cannot be held criminally responsible [Penal Code, Section 30]. A child aged 12 to 14 is presumed to be able to be held criminally liable unless it can be proved beyond reasonable doubt that he or she lacked the capacity to form the intention necessary to commit the offence or, where negligence is an element of the offence, he or she lacked the capacity to behave in the way that a reasonable adult would have behaved in the circumstances [Penal Code, section 31].

Sudan

Generally, not child under the age of seven can be held criminally responsible. Children aged seven to 15 can be held criminally responsible if they have reached puberty [Criminal Act 1991, Sections 3 and 9]. However, the Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1994 can be applied without a lower age limit [Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Act 1994, Articles 15 and 20].

Swaziland

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is seven. A child aged 7 to 14 can only be held criminally responsible if he or she “knew the difference between right and wrong, knowingly intended to do wrong and understood the consequences of the act.” [Initial report of Swaziland to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/SWZ/1, 16 February 2006, para. 79]

Tanzania, United Republic of

No person under the age of seven can be held criminally responsible for any act or omission. A child aged seven to 12 can be held criminally responsible where at the time of alleged offence he or she had the capacity to know that he ought not do the act or make the omission [Criminal Code, Section 15].

Togo

Under the Penal Code, children under the age of 13 could be held criminally responsible before the Juvenile Court [Code de Procedure Penale, Article 455.]. The introduction of the Children's Code 2007, however, has effectively increased the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 by providing that children under this age are “criminally irresponsible” [Children's Code 2007, Article 302.]

Tunisia

Persons under the age of 13 cannot be held criminally responsible.[Child Protection Code, Article 68.]

Uganda

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is 12 years. [Children's Act, Section 88.]

Zambia

No person under the age of eight is criminally responsible for any act or omission. A child older than eight but younger than 12 is not criminally responsible for an offence unless it is proved that “at the time of doing the act or making the omission [he or she] had the capacity to do the act or make the omission”. A male person under the age of 12 is presumed incapable of having carnal knowledge, a provision that prevents the prosecution of younger boys for certain sexual offences. [Penal Code, Section 14]

Zimbabwe

No child can be held criminally responsible for an offence allegedly committed while younger than seven years of age. A child older than seven but younger than 14 can only be held criminally responsible where it is proved that he or she has the capacity to form the intention necessary to commit an offence or, where negligence is an element of the relevant offence, where he or she has the capacity to behave in the way that a reasonable adult would have behave in the circumstance [Criminal Code, Sections 6 and 7]. Males under the age of 12 are presumed to be incapable of sexual intercourse, though this is a rebuttable presumption and a younger boy can be prosecuted for sexual offences related to sexual intercourse where it can be demonstrated that he was capable of performing the act on the balance of probabilities [Criminal Code, Sections 63].