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Amendment Would Lower Age of Criminal Responsibility

Amendment Would Lower Age of Criminal Responsibility

A newly proposed Brazilian constitutional amendment would lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16 years old. The current Brazilian law says that although those under 18 do need to be punished for their crimes, they are not legally responsible for them. Presently, those under 18 who commit crimes requiring more than a warning or simple restitution are sent to “socio-education measure centers” or juvenile detention centers. They stay at these facilities for a maximum of three years. At that point, they are either paroled or semi-paroled. If they commit another infraction, they can then be placed in a center for another three years.

While recent polls show between 82 and 93 percent of people support lowering the age of criminal responsibility, the proposal is not without its opponents. For example, some opponents of the proposal point out that other rights, including obtaining a driver license, smoking, drinking, and marriage, are not afforded to teens until they are 18. Some also argue that if the age of criminal responsibility is lowered, then lawmakers will continue to lower it more and more. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff is among those who do not support the reform. She recently said:

The place for children is the school, not the prison system. We cannot allow the reduction in the criminal responsibility age because this would be a major setback to human rights in the nation, and it would not do anything to solve the problem of juvenile crime.

Still, there are those who argue that the current lack of consequences for those committing a crime while less than 18 years of age leads them to commit more crimes. They argue that reform is necessary. Along with that, stories of teens committing crimes just shy of their 18th birthdays and then being sentenced as juveniles have also brought the issue to light in public.

Neither side is going to be entirely happy if the other side wins in the battle over whether or not to change the age of criminal responsibility, but other ideas have been discussed that might help the groups reach a compromise. For example, the age of responsibility could be lowered just for the worst crimes, or consequences could be more extreme for juveniles while not actually trying them as adults. No matter how things turn out with the proposed amendment, there are likely to be some unsatisfied people.