Campaign launched to protect youthful criminals

A child welfare organization has embarked on a campaign to bury a legislative proposal that would reduce the age to 15 of lawbreakers exposed to adult penalties. The age now is 18 years.

“An adolescent in conflict with the law is not equal to an adult criminal,” said the organization, the Defensa de Niñas y Niños-Internacional Costa Rica.

The bill has been languishing in the Asamblea Legislativa since 2009, but a wave of serious youth crimes has made this section of the proposal more likely to receive a legislative review.

Still, the organization said that lowering the age to 15 would be a violation of human rights. The organization said that a surge in crime causes the Costa Rican public to blame juveniles when 2009 figures show that only 3.9 percent of the serious crimes in Costa Rica were committed by persons under 18.

The legislation was put forward by Movimiento Libertario in the previous legislature. The bill has been sent to the legislative committee on drug trafficking and security for study. The measure also contains other changes in the criminal code that make sections stronger including penalizing receiving stolen property.

However, the campaign by the organization known as DNI Costa Rica concentrates on the section that lowers the age for cases in the adult courts. The penalties for adults who committee crimes are much heavier than those for youngsters.

The campaign is called -18 ≠ + 18, meaning less than 18 is not equal to over 18. The organization is seeking signatures on it’s Web site. The bill is 17.615.

One reason the organization said it opposes the law is because Costa Rica signed the Convention over the Rights of Children 20 years ago. This calls for the use of prison as a last resort, the organization noted. Costa Rica has established a separate criminal process for those under 18 regardless of the crime.

The organization admits that around 95 percent of the crimes commited by minors involve those greater than 15 years.

Bringing these defendants into the adult system would effectively eliminate the juvenile justice system because youngsters from 12 to 15 as a group commit far fewer crimes.

The organization also blames social inequities for the increase in crime and violence.

The organization also said that a new draft of the criminal code in 1994 doubled the maximum term of imprisonment for adults to 50 years and now two decades later the prison population has tripled and violence and crime continue increasing.

The goal of a juvenile justice system is to integrate the youthful criminal into society though restitution, community service, education and limited imprisonment, said DNI, which also opposes corporal punishment of children.

A.M. Costa Rica called editorially for a reduction in the threshold year to 14 March 17 after two murders attributed to young suspects and the slashing of a high school student by other juveniles.

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