Press Release

IACHR expresses concern over the initiative to amend Brazil’s constitution in order to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility for adolescents

March 23, 2015

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Washington, D.C. - The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) expresses concern over the initiative to amend Brazil’s Federal Constitution in order to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility for adolescents from 18 to 16 years of age.  Brazil’s Federal Constitution establishes that children and adolescents under the age of 18 cannot be held accountable in the same terms as adults for the commission of crimes and establishes juvenile justice system that bears in mind the growth and development of children and adolescents. Brazil’s Federal Constitution and the Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente (specific legislation on children and adolescents) are in line with the many international human rights instruments that establish 18 years of age as the minimum age for prosecuting someone as an adult, as well as the decisions of the Inter-American Court and IACHR.

The IACHR expresses concern over the possibility of States adopting constitutional reforms that are contrary to the international obligations to which they freely entered into through the ratification of international treaties and contrary to international human rights law. The IACHR considers that the current constitutional reform bill being analyzed by Brazil’s House of Representatives would constitute a serious regression and a violation of fundamental human rights of adolescents, as it would infringe the guarantee of adolescents being subjected to a specialized juvenile justice system.

The Estatuto da Criança e do Adolescente currently provides for a juvenile justice system to hold  persons under the age of 18 accountable for their actions that contravene criminal law.  This system establishes that measures imposed on children and adolescents who have committed a crime must be aimed at their resocialization and education in order to promote their reinsertion into society in a positive and constructive manner.

The IACHR shares the concern over the situation of violence in some areas of Brazil and recognizes the right and duty of the State to guarantee the safety of all persons.  The IACHR is also alarmed over the number of children and adolescents victimized by this situation. Contrary to political and social discourse, children and adolescents form one of the groups of persons most affected by violence.  According to official data, violence and assault were the main causes of death for adolescents in the past 12 years.  In 2012, 36.5% of all deceased adolescents between 10 and 18 years of age lost their lives due to interpersonal violence, as opposed to 4.8% of the general population.

On the other hand, statistics show that, contrary to what is argued as the justification for lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, adolescents are not largely responsible for levels of insecurity and criminal activity.  Criminal acts committed by adolescents account for 4% of all crimes committed by adults.  Of all criminal acts committed by adolescents, 2.9% are considered to be serious crimes.  The IACHR considers that, according to international human rights law, restorative justice models should be applied to adolescents in Brazil and there is need for urgent progress to be made in making this model fully compliant with the standards of protection of the rights of children and adolescents.

A principal, autonomous body of the Organization of American States (OAS), the IACHR derives its mandate from the OAS Charter and the American Convention on Human Rights. The Inter-American Commission has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and acts as a consultative body to the OAS in this area. The Commission is composed of seven independent members who are elected in an individual capacity by the OAS General Assembly and who do not represent their countries of origin or residence.

No. 036/15