• Press Release

Brazil: Lowering age of adult criminal responsibility will consign children to “medieval” prison system

May 18, 2015

Plans to lower the age at which children can be prosecuted as adults in Brazil will dramatically undermine children’s rights and could result in teenagers being sent to notoriously dangerous adult prisons where they could face horrendous violence, abuse and grooming, said Amnesty International today.

Brazil’s congress is currently considering reducing the age a person could be prosecuted as an adult from 18 to 16 years old. If passed, the legislation would mean some children would be tried as adults, face the same criminal penalties and could be sent to adult prison.

“This is yet another outrageous attack against the rights of young people in Brazil. We know all too well that teenagers are more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. The rate at which black youths are being murdered in this country is a national scandal, and should be urgently addressed. But instead of being protected, these children are vilified and painted as criminals, increasing the situation of vulnerability they face in one of the most oppressive prison systems in the world,” said Atila Roque, Director Executive of Amnesty International Brazil.

“Conditions in adult prisons in Brazil are medieval. Jailing adults and youngsters in the same prisons would be catastrophic, putting youngsters at risk into an overcrowded and under-funded prison system which registers high levels of abuse, inhumane conditions and torture.”

Brazil’s prison system is one of the most violent in the world. The country has the fourth highest prison population, surpassed only by the USA, China and Russia, according to the International Centre for Prison Studies (ICPS).

Breaching international standards

Lowering the legal age of criminal responsibility and excluding children aged 16 to 18 from the juvenile justice system would also breach Brazil’s international obligations. These include the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice and various standards from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. They all lay out how children should be provided with specific treatment in a juvenile justice system that takes into account specific needs according to their age.

Amnesty International is calling on the Brazilian authorities to scrap plans to lower the age of criminal responsibility and instead increase their efforts to better protect children, especially by addressing the sky-high murder-victim rates among young people, particularly young black men.

Amnesty International Brazil has launched an email campaign to call on Congress to stop this legislation. The organization welcomes the position of the Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff who has come out against the proposed change.

“This is just one in a series of worrying attempts by the national congress to pick apart the human rights framework that currently exists in Brazil. By reducing the legal age of criminal responsibility, the Brazilian authorities are undermining the rights of children and teenagers in the country. Instead of working out ways to prosecute children as adults, the government should be focusing on upholding children’s rights, including their right to education, health and a life free from violence,” said Atila Roque.

More information

The justice and public safety system in Brazil has historically been marked by high levels of impunity, inefficiency, police violence and dangerous prisons.

According to National Public Safety Department, young people aged between 16 and 18 commit just 0.9% of all crimes at the country. Meanwhile, the most recent homicide data shows that of 56,000 killings recorded, 30,000 victims were young people aged 15-29 years, and of those were 77% black.

Projections from the Homicide Index among Adolescents also show that more than 42,000 adolescents aged 12 to 18 are at risk of being murdered in the next four years.

In 1990, Brazil enacted the Child and Adolescent Statute. The Brazilian legislation dictates that the lowest age of criminal responsibility is 12 years old, but that between 12 and 18, the trial must be conducted under the care of a juvenile justice system, suitable for their rights and social and psychological development characteristics, including contemplating the deprivation of liberty as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.

Although states have a particular obligation to prosecute and punish those responsible for committing a crime, the government has to take into consideration the differences in the physical and psychological development in children, including adolescents aged 16 to 18, compared to adults.