Amnesty International USA joined the Brazilian nongovernmental organization Conectas Direitos Humanos in calling on the Brazilian Congress to refrain from creating a serious setback to children’s rights. This week, while President Dilma Rousseff conducts a state visit to the United States, the Brazilian legislature is preparing to vote on an amendment to the Constitution that would reduce the age of criminal majority from 18 to 16 years old.
Prosecuting children as adults in a court of law would only contribute to the overcrowding of the country's prisons. Brazil has one of the highest homicide rates in the world — an estimated 56,000 in 2012. Four percent of those homicides were committed by persons under 18 years of age; more than half of those killed were young people between the ages of 15 and 29, and 77 percent of those were black. Brazilian black youth pay a disproportionate price when it comes to incarceration rates.
Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which applies to everyone under 18, states are required to establish laws, procedures, authorities and institutions specifically applicable to children accused of infringing the penal law. The UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, adopted by the UN General Assembly in November 1985, stipulate that proceedings for children should be conducive to the best interests of the child and shall be conducted in an atmosphere of understanding, allowing them to participate and to express themselves freely, and that the well-being of the child should be the guiding factor in the consideration of the case.
We call on the Brazilian Congress to not give into the temptation to respond to public security challenges with a misguided populist measure. The threat to the rights of children in Brazil would be a serious setback not only to the country, but to the entire region, undermining the country’s credibility in speaking out for the protection of human rights.