Minimum Ages of Criminal Responsibility in the Americas

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 Oceania.

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

Antigua and Barbuda

Children can be held criminally responsible from the age of 8. [Juvenile Act, Sections 2 and 3. See also Cipriani, D. (2009), Children’s Rights and the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility: A Global Perspective, Farnham: Ashgate Publishing Limited]

Argentina

No person can be held criminally responsible for anything done while under the age of 16. A child older than 16 but younger than 18 can only be held criminally responsible where the offence is punishable by deprivation of liberty for more than two years. [Ley 22.278, Regimen Penal de la Minoridad]

Bahamas

Children under the age of 10 cannot be held criminally responsible for any act and a child under the age of 12 can only be held criminally responsible where he or she has “attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge the nature and consequences of [his or her] conduct in the matter in respect of which [he or she] is accused. [Penal Code, Section 91(1) and (2)]

Barbados

No offence is punishable when committed by a child unless the court is of the opinion that the child is older than 11 and has “sufficient capacity to commit crime.” [Juvenile Offenders Act, sections 7 to 9]

Belize

No one can be held criminally responsible for anything done while under the age of nine. A child older than nine but younger than 12 can only be held criminally responsible where he or she has “attained sufficient maturity of understanding to judge of the nature and consequences of [his or her] conduct in the matter in respect of which [he or she] is accused.” [Criminal Code, Section 25(1) and (2)]

Bolivia

People can be held criminally responsible from the age of 16 [Penal Code, Article 5], but can be subject to socio-educative measures from the age of 12, including those amounting to deprivation of liberty. [Childhood and Adolescence Code, Articles 222 and 223]

Brazil

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is formally 18. If a person is under the age of 18, an alleged criminal offence is considered an infraction and the person would be subject to “socio-educative measures”. If over 12, the measures may include community service and partial or total institutionalisation in a socio-education facility. If under 12, the child can be placed in a foster home or with a family, among other measures including psychological accompaniment and mandatory attendance of classes, which can also be applied to children older than 12. [Child and Adolescent Code]

These measures have led some commentators to report that the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 12, as this is the point at which penalties indicative of criminal responsibility – most notably deprivation of liberty - can be applied.[ See Cipriani, Children's rights and the minimum age of criminal responsibility: A global perspective, Ashgate, 2009, pp. 94-97 and 192]

Canada

No person can be convicted of an offence in respect of an act or omission committed while under under the age of 12. [Criminal Code, Section 13]

Chile

Chilean legislation describes the minimum age of criminal responsibility as 18, but child offenders can be subject to “socio-educative measures”, including deprivation of liberty, for criminal offences from the age of 14. [Law 20.084 on the responsibilities of adolescents for criminal conduct, Article 3]

Colombia

Children can be held criminally responsible from the age of 14, but are subject to the Juvenile Penal Responsibility System, under which they do not establish a criminal record. [Childhood and Adolescence Code, Articles 139 and 159]

Costa Rica

The Penal Code describes 18 as the minimum age of criminal responsibility [Penal Code, Article 17], though children can be subject to penalties including deprivation of liberty from the age of 12 under the juvenile justice system.[ Juvenile Penal Justice Law, Articles 1 and 6]

Cuba

Under the Cuban Penal Code, only people over the age of 16 can be held criminally liable [Penal Code, Article 16], however there is no minimum age at which children can be subject to penalties, including deprivation of liberty in re-education centres [See Cipriani, D. Children's Rights and the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility: A Global Perspective, Ashgate 2009, at p. 195, fn. 30]. In effect, 16 is the age of criminal majority: the point at which children can be sentenced to adult penalties.

Dominica

No person can be held criminally responsible for an offence committed while under the age of 12. [Children and Young Persons Act, Section 3]

Dominican Republic

Dominican legislation asserts that people can be held criminally responsible from the age of 18, but children can be subject to penalties including deprivation of liberty from the age of 13. Different rules and sentences are set for children under and over the age of 15. [Law 126/03, the Code for the System of Protection and Fundamental Rights of Children and Adolescents, Article 223]

Ecuador

The Penal Code asserts that the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 18 [Penal Code, Article 40], though children can be subject to penalties including deprivation of liberty from the age of 12. [Childhood and Adolescence Code, Article 305]

El Salvador

The Penal Code asserts that 18 is the minimum age of criminal responsibility, though children can be subject to penalties including deprivation of liberty from the age of 12. [Juvenile Penal Law, Article 2]

Grenada

The Juvenile Justice Act 2012 was enacted in October 2012 and would make substantial amendments to Grenada's juvenile justice system, including by prohibiting life imprisonment for any offence committed while under the age of 18. However, at the time of writing, this Act had not come into force. Until the Juvenile Justice Act enters into force, the sentencing of children is largely governed by the Criminal Code. This profile sets out both sentencing regimes.

Criminal Code

The Criminal Code sets an absolute limit on the minimum age of criminal responsibility at seven, by providing that nothing is an offence which is done by a person under that age.[Criminal Code, Section 50(1)]

Juvenile Justice Act 2012

Under the Juvenile Justice Act 2012, a child under the age of 12 would be presumed capable of committing a criminal offence and children under the age of 12 could only be held criminally responsible where the State can demonstrate this responsibility beyond reasonable doubt. In deciding whether a child under the age of 12 can be held criminally responsible, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the prosecutor or the attorney representing the child could order the evaluation of the child by “a suitably qualified person to be conducted at the expense of the state”. Such an evaluation would have to include an assessment of “the cognitive, emotional, psychological and social development of the child”. [Juvenile Justice Act 2012]

The absolute limit on the minimum age of criminal responsibility at seven years would remain in force.[Criminal Code, Section 50(1)]

Guatemala

The Constitution asserts that a person can be held criminally responsible from the age of 18 [Constitution, Article 20], though children aged 13 to 18 can be detained in institutions.[ Childhood and Adolescence Integral Protection Law, Article 2]

Guyana

No person can be held criminally responsible for an offence committed while under the age of 10. [Juvenile Offenders Act, Section 3]

Haiti

Persons aged 13 or more can be sentenced to penal measures under the Penal Code [Penal Code, Articles 50 and 51].

Honduras

Under the national definition, criminal responsibility begins at 18, though children can be held responsible under the juvenile justice system from the age of 12. [Childhood and Adolescence Code, Article 180]

Jamaica

No child under the age of 12 can be found guilty of an offence. [Child Care and Protection Act, Section 63]

Mexico

The Constitution of Mexico requires states to establish a system of justice applicable to children between the ages of 12 and 18. Children under the age of 12 can only be subject to rehabilitation and social assistance. The precise formulation of this system varies between the states. [Constitution of Mexico, Article 18]

Nicaragua

Under the definition of criminal responsibility used in national legislation, criminal responsibility begins at 18, though children can be subject to penalties under the juvenile justice system from the age of 13. [Childhood and Adolescence Code, Article 95]

Panama

Children can be subject to penalties for criminal offences from the age of 12. [Ley No. 40 del Regimen Especial de Responsabilidad Penal para la Adolescencia, Articles 7 and 8. (as amended by Ley No. 6 de 2010, Articles 2 and 4.)]

Paraguay

Children can be held criminally responsible from the age of 14. An adolescent can only be held responsible if he or she is of sufficient maturity to understand the illegality of his or her actions. Younger children can be the subject of protective measures. [Childhood and Adolescence Code, Article 194.]

Peru

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is formally 18. Where a person under 18 infringes the criminal law, he or she is considered to have committed “an infraction” and can be subjected to socio-educative measures, though these measures include deprivation of liberty. [Penal Code, Article 20.2.]

If under 14, a person can be subjected to protective measures such as tutoring for the child and parents, participation in an educative programme or placing the child in a foster family or home.[Childhood and Adolescence Code, Article 242.]

Saint Kitts and Nevis

No child under the age of eight can be held guilty of a criminal offence.[ Juvenile Act, Section 3. as per Initial report of Saint Kitts and Nevis to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/3/Add.51, 5 May 1997.]

Saint Lucia

No one can be held criminally responsible for actions taken while under the age of 12. [Children and Young Persons Act, Section 3]

Saint Vincent and the Grenadines

Children can be held criminally responsible from the age of eight [Juveniles Act, Section 3 and Criminal Code, Section 12]

Suriname

No one can be prosecuted for an offence committed while under the age of 10. [Penal Code, Article 56]

Trinidad and Tobago

The minimum age of criminal responsibility is not defined by legislation and so is governed by the common law. Children under the age of seven cannot be held criminally responsible for any offence [Second periodic report of Trinidad and Tobago to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, CRC/C/83/Add.12, 15 November 2004, para 248], and there is a presumption that children aged 10 to 14 cannot be held criminally responsible, though  this presumption can be rebutted where it can be demonstrated “that the child knew that his act was seriously wrong … at the time when he did it”. [See C. (A Minor) v. DPP [1996] 1 AC 1, H.L.]

United States of America

The minimum age of criminal liability is set at the federal and state level in the United States. At the state level, 33 states set no minimum age of criminal responsibility, theoretically allowing a child to be sentenced to criminal penalties at any age [Cipriani,D. Children's Rights and the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility: A Global Perspective, Ashgate 2009, p. 221 and 222], though in most of these states a capacity related test is applied.

Of the States that do set a minimum age of criminal responsibility, North Carolina has the lowest at seven years, while Wisconsin has the highest at ten years. [For full references of state laws see Cipriani D., Children's rights and the minimum age of criminal responsibility: A global perspective, Ashgate 2009, p. 219 and 220]

Uruguay

No one under the age of 18 can be held criminally responsible under the definition adopted by Uruguayan legislation, though children can be subjected to socio-educative measures from the age of 13, including institutionalisation. [Childhood and Adolescence Code]

Venezuela

People can be subject to penalties including deprivation of liberty from the age of 12. [Ley Orgánica para la proteccion de niños, niñas y adolescentes, Article 528]

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