CRIN has collected worrying evidence that a growing number of States in all regions, far from fullfilling their legal obligations to respect the rights of all children, are moving backwards in their approach to juvenile justice and criminalising more and younger children.
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Countries that have lowered the minimum age of criminal responsibility
In June 2010, the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) was reduced from 15 to 14 years. This change was criticised in the:
CRC Concluding Observations of 2011: "The Committee expresses its deep concern on... the lowering of the age of criminal responsibility from 15 years to 14 years" (para. 49.b).
Denmark subsequently raised the MACR to 15 in March 2012.
Criminal Code of Georgia, article 33, contains these provisions setting the MACR:
CRC Concluding Observations, June 2008: "The Committee deeply regrets the decision of the State party to lower the MACR from 14 to 12" (para. 72).
State's response to questions of the CRC, June 2008: criminal responsibility was lowered with respect to "deliberate murder; deliberate murder in aggravating circumstances; deliberate grave injury to health; deliberate less grave injury to health; rape; robbery; armed robbery; carriage of a cold steel by a person who has not attained 21 years or a person with previous conviction or a person convicted under administrative law for using drugs".
The State reinstated the MACR at 14 years in February 2010.
Hungary enacted a new Criminal Code in 2012 which reduced the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12 for homicide, voluntary manslaughter, battery, robbery and plundering, provided that the child had the capacity to understand the nature and consequences of his or her act. For all other offences, children can be held responsible from the age of 14.
- CRC Concluding Observations, 2014: The Committee on the Rights of the Child criticised the change and recommended that Hungary increase the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 for even the most serious offences.
Articles 2 and 4 of Law No. 6/2010 reduced the MACR from 14 to 12.
CRC Concluding Observations, 2011: This change was criticised by the Committee who "recommends that the state bring the juvenile justice system fully in line with the Convention (by) Increasing the age of criminal responsibility" (para. 76.a).
Countries that have considered, or are considering, lowering the age of criminal responsibility
The Minister for the Supreme Court, Dr. Raul Zafrroni, proposed lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 16 to 14. As of March 2011, the proposal had not resulted in legislation - read "Fourteen: The age of responsibility?".
The Minor's Penal Law 22,278 is the relevant legislation.
There was no mention of lowering the MACR in the CRC's Concluding Observations, June 2010.
In July 2014, lawmakers approved the new Children and Adolescents Code which lowers the MACR from 16 to 14. The Code is awaiting promulgation, pending possible amendments in relation to the lowering of the MACR. The Bolivian ombudsman criticised the measure, saying that in responding to public security concerns by lowering the MACR the State has chosen to avoid its obligations to combat the socio-economic root causes of criminality - read "Defensor afirma que disminuir la edad de imputabilidad vulnera derechos de adolescentes y es una medida regresiva y deshonesta".
- Under Article 201.i. of the Code: "A specialised justice system for adolescents found criminally responsible shall be applied to adolescents from the age of 14 and under the age of 18, charged with the commission of an act that is classed as an offence."
A legislative commission approved a proposed amendment to the Constitution which aimed to lower the MACR from 18 to 16. The approval required the Senate and Parliament to consider the amendment, but it has not been passed.
Under article 228 of the Brazilian Constitution: "Minors under eighteen years of age may not be held criminally liable and shall be subject to the rules of the special legislation".
As a Constitutional right it would be at least very difficult to amend the MACR, one commentator indicated that it may not be possible, even by Constitutional amendment - read "Brazil criminal responsibility of minors in national and international legal orders".
In June 2011, French Parliamentarians voted on a new law in the National Assembly introducing a reform of the juvenile justice system. The law provides for the creation of a criminal court with a juvenile judge to adjudicate on recidivist offenders aged 16 to 18 years. The law also introduces new procedures for faster prosecution. The law was largely criticised by civil society as it represents a regression of juvenile justice and puts in danger the specificity of the justice system for minors - read "Réforme de la justice des mineurs en examen au sénat".
The law (No. 2011-939) was published in the Official Gazette in August 2011 and came into force in early 2012.
The Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act 2015 received presidential assent on 31 December 2015 and entered into force on 15 January 2016. According to sections 15 and 18(3) of the Act, children aged 16 to 18 who are alleged or found to have serious offences can be transferred to the adult system.
Korea, the Republic of
A proposal emerged in 2007 from the Ministry of Justice to lower the MACR from 12 to 10 - read "Plans to lower age of criminal responsibility attacked".
It seems that the proposal never reached the legislative stage. The CRC made no reference to the reform in its Concluding Observations, February 2012.
Relevant legislation: The Act on the Treatment of Protected Juveniles and the Juvenile Act were both amended in 2007, but the changes did not affect the MACR.
The State of Nuevo León was considering lowering the MACR to 12 in July 2011.
In May 2012, the centre-left Aprista Party presented Congress with a draft bill that aims to amend articles 20 and 22 of the Penal Code on the MACR, to lower it from 18 to 16 for "serious crimes", including homicide, kidnapping, theft, rape, extortion and conspiracy - read "Proponen que adolescentes desde los 16 años asuman responsabilidad penal".
Under current legislation (article 20 of the Penal Code), all persons under 18 are exempt from criminal responsibility, except in cases of acts of terrorism, for which the age of criminal responsibility is 15.
House Bill 3370 was filed in February 2008 to lower the MACR from 15 to 10 - read "Phillipines: bid to lower age of criminal responsibility". The issue was raised again in 2010 and in September 2011 - read "Mayo Lim, Manila judges favor criminal liability for minors". In October 2013, a finalised version of the bill was signed into law which retained the MACR at 15 and provided that children aged over 15, but under 18, are also exempt from criminal liability unless they have "acted with discernment".
Relevant law: the Juvenile Welfare Act (Republic Act 9344) was adopted in 2006 and raised the MACR from 9 to 15 years. Amendments made in 2013 retained this MACR, but introduced mandatory measures that amount to deprivation of liberty for children under the age of 15 who commit serious crimes - read "Aquino inks laws prootecting juveniles, animals".
The State Duma Committee for Constitutional Law and State Development is currently drafting a bill that would lower the MACR from 16 to 14 for certain crimes, and from 14 to 12 for crimes including homicide, kidnapping, burglary and rape - read "Duma suggests lowering criminal liability age to 12".
A proposal arose in July 2009 following the rapes of two young girls by a group of 12 and 13 year olds. The Minister of Justice released a statement stressing that he opposed lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12 in September of that year - read "Government refuses to lower the age of criminal responsibilty from 14 to 12".
There was no mention of lowering the MACR in the subsequent CRC Concluding Observations, September 2010.
Uruguay scheduled a referendum on whether to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16. The proposal was rejected in October 2014 due to a lack of votes in favour.