Note from BW of Brazil: The controversy over the proposal to lower the legal age of criminal responsibility has raged for a while now. For me, the question would be the agenda that is behind this whole thing. Although it is clear that crime throughout the country is indeed out of control, but as we’ve asked in previous posts, what is the root of this problem? And in this case, how will dropping the age of criminality solve the problem? There are several problems with this approach, beginning with the conditions of wealth and privilege on one side and poverty and social injustice on the other, the very factors that will always create an explosion of crime. The list of rich criminal politicians who have used and abused their power over the years, been associated with scandals and should have been in jail a long time ago are too numerous to list here. But needless to say, their power, money and connections will always guarantee that they never pay for their crimes while they use this same power to victimize those who are already victimized by the criminal social system that is modern day Brazil.
We’ve already explored how murder rates in Brazil are equal to a country at war, its effects on young black men and black women, a spike in the imprisonment rates of one state that is experimenting with private prisons, the inhumane cavity searches of female prison visitors and a Brazil that is now fourth largest imprisoning country in the world. With all of this in mind, it is clear that there’s more to this than the rhetoric of making Brazil a safer place at play here.
Reduction of legal age will legitimize genocide of black youth
Measure can be voted on in plenary on the 30th
Commemoration of the approval of reduced majority in committee
By Diego Cruz
In the early evening of this Wednesday, 17, under heavy police protection, the special committee of the Câmara dos Deputados (House of Representatives) approved the reduction of legal age project in Brazil. Taking forward the so-called bullet and Evangelical caucus, as well as the reactionary president of the Câmara, Eduardo Cunha (PMDB-RJ), the project is ready for a vote on the House floor, which should take place on the 30th.
It is undeniable that the proposed reduction of the penal age from the current 18 to 16 finds broad support in the population. Above all among the poor. And it is also true that this discussion takes place in a context of extreme urban violence affecting mainly the poor. But is this is the solution to containing the so-called criminality? Would the Bolsonaros, Datenas and Malafaias (1) of the world be right?
To shed light on this debate Ipea (Institute of Applied Economic Research) released the study “O Adolescente em Conflito com a Lei e o Debate sobre a Redução da Maioridade Penal” (The Youth in Conflict with the Law and the Debate on the redução da maioridade penal (reduction of the age of criminal responsibility) of the researchers Enid Rocha Andrade Silva and Raissa Menezes de Oliveira. In this study, based on the situation of young people aged 12 to 17 years with information from PNAD (National Household Survey) 2013, came the conclusin that the state turns a blind eye to Brazilian youth. And it is not in relation to impunity.
The situation of young people in Brazil
The country has 21 million young people and adolescents, 11% of Brazil’s total population. A great part concentrated in the Southeast (38.7%) and Northeast (30.4%). Of these, nearly 60% are black. And what is the situation of these young people? Taking young people 15-17 years, over 1 million were not working and not going to school. Of these, almost 65% were black. Of this amount of young people who neither work nor study, 83%, the vast majority are classified as extremely poor and live in households with per capita income that does not come to one salário mínimo (minimum monthly wage).
Young people that work survive on the precariousness and low wages. The overwhelming majority of the young people of 15 years that work earn less than a minimum salary. Expanding this base for young people 15-17 years old, more than half, 60% earn less than one minimum salary.
If young Brazilians live with unemployment and precariousness, when it comes to violence these figures are no better. Taking the 2009 PNAD, one sees that 1.6% of the population has already been the victim of some kind of aggression. Among adolescents, this proportion goes to 1.9%. Of these, 60% are black. Of teenagers assaulted, 2.8% of whites were the victim of police or private security guard. Among black teens 4% were already picked up by the police or security.
The numbers of the 2013 Mapa da Violência (Map of Violence) are more dramatic. In 30 years, deaths from firearms, for example, grew 346%. But in the case of young people, this growth was 414%. Here too black youth appear more exposed, with 133% more deaths than whites.
The juvenile offenders
If the youth and especially black youth are the biggest victim of the violence of a society that excludes and relegates them to unemployment and underemployment, what about the so-called minor offenders? Don’t they contribute to such violence as much as conservatives and reactionaries of various colorings seem to believe? A fact already well divulged is that of UNICEF Brazil that shows that, of the 21 million adolescents in Brazil, less than one percent (0.013%) had committed some crime against life.
Of the adolescents detained in Brazil in 2013, almost 40% had been arrested for theft. The second cause of the “prisons” of young people in Brazil is trafficking, with 23.5%. Murder appears only in third place with less than 10% of causes of internization (8.75%). Robbery, theft followed by death, accounts for only 1.95% of the arrests. But if these young people that have killed don’t benefit from an unfair system that, under the cloak of protection of young people and adolescents, doesn’t this promote impunity? This is one of the biggest myths surrounding the topic.
According to the study cited by the IPEA report, comparing the social-educational system for young people and criminal law for the adults, it’s easier for a youth or adolescent to serve a sentence of three years in a closed regime as an adult criminal. For an adult to remain three years in jail he must be sentenced to, at the least, 18 years in prison, a very rare case.
Then we have the following picture: while youth are preferred victims of violence, they corrrespond to an extreme minority of committed crimes. Of these crimes, an even tinier minority consists of homicides. And, once detained, they spend more time imprisoned than adults. And the majority, 60% are black.
For whom does the reduction of age serve?
The data collected by IPEA and other studies show that the cause of violence doesn’t come from a supposed impunity to youthful offenders. They reveal that, on the contrary, young people, especially blacks and poor young people, are victims of such violence. Why then the hysteria around the theme? Why are politicians mobilizing to approve the reduction of age and pathetically celebrating every victory won in Congress?
Contrary to what one may think, this measure will not only not reduce violence, as much as helping to legitimize further genocide of poor black youth. It finds popular support because it is a seemingly easy answer to a concrete problem. But when the deputies approve this, they aren’t thinking of playboys who trample the poor cyclists and flee, nor in their own children or family members. There is a well defined image in their heads: and this image is of a black teenager in slums or on the periphery (of cities). It is against them that they point their weapons.
The Dilma government, in turn, while claiming to be against the reduction of age, closed an agreement via Minister of Justice Eduardo Cardozo, with the PSDB (party). This agreement extends the current length of stay from the current 3 years to up to 10 years. That is, a variant of the bancada da bala (caucus of the bullet) and has the same effect of criminalizing youth.
Meanwhile, Eduardo Cunha (PMDB-RJ) quoted in Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash scandal) and responding to crimes that would fill in meters of criminal records, remains unpunished. Renan Calheiros (PDMB-AL), another notable corrupt (politician), remains unpunished and eventually even occuping the president’s chair, since he is the head of the Senate and replaces Dilma when she and the vice-president are out. Meanwhile, all the corrupt in Congress are unpunished, enjoying all possible privileges and plotting a mall to serve them that will cost R$1 billion.
Note from BW of Brazil: Below is a piece from late March that analyzed the racial aspect of the proposal.
Legal age reduction affects mainly blacks and marginalized youth
March 25, 2015
Legal age reduction affects mainly blacks and marginalized youth
The reduction of the legal age in Brazil, from 18 to 16, that entered into the agenda of the Câmara dos Deputados last week, follows the mobilizing of social and human rights entities contrary to the PEC; check out what these entities think
By Benedito Teixeira
The reduction of the legal age in Brazil, from 18 to 16, that entered into the agenda of the House of Representatives last week, follows the mobilizing of social and human rights organizations against the referred Proposta de Emenda Constitucional (PEC) 171/93 (PEC or Proposed Constitutional Amendment) 171/93.
Brazilian Cáritas, an organization of the National Conference of Bishops of Brazil (CNBB), publishes a manifesto in which it reaffirmed its position against the proposal proceeding in the National Congress and that also examines an increased length of stay for juvenile offenders. “We understand that children and adolescents respected in their rights are unlikely to be violators of Human Rights,” said an excerpt of the manifesto.
“We stress our commitment to demanding the obligation and responsibility of the state to guarantee fundamental constitutional rights for all children and adolescents, guaranteeing them equal conditions for the full development of their potential, as well as ensuring that families, the community and the society are able to assume its responsibilities in protecting their children,” read the text.
The Cáritas manifesto points out that the measures of reduction of rights, particularly regarding the reduction of legal age and increased internalization period, affects mainly the marginalized, young black men and women, those who live in the periphery, who have had all their survival rights previously denied. For the entity, it’s necessary to realize that violence has complex causes that involve: social inequality and injustice; cultural aspects that support for the construction of an imaginary of intolerances and discrimination, especially against the black, poor and youth population.
In addition, “the reality of ineffective or non-existent public policies; lack of opportunities for young people entering the labor market; and the mainstream media that assigns different values to different people according to class, race/ethnicity, gender and age.” The measure for the reduction of the legal age of criminal responsibility, for Cáritas, is to remedy the effect and not deal with its structural causes. Research from around the world shows that the decrease of legal age does not reduce the rate of teenage involvement in illegal acts.
Already the Pastoral da Juventude (PJ or youth ministry), an organization of the Catholic Church also linked to CNBB, in a statement repudiating the PEC 171/93, states that the massive characteristic of incarceration in Brazil adds to the selective character of the penal system: “even with the ethnic and social diversity of the population, people submitted to the prison system almost always have the same color and come from the same social class and geographic territories historically left to the margins of the Brazilian development process: they are people are young, poor, peripheral inhabitants and black.”
Locking up young people with 16 years of age in a failed prison system that has not fulfilled its social function and has been shown to be a school of crime does not ensure the reintegration and rehabilitation of these people, let alone the reduction of violence. The proposal to reduce criminal age strengthens the criminal policy and affronts the full protection of the adolescent,” says the PJ in the statement.
The Fundo das Nações Unidas para a Infância (Unicef or United Nations Children’s Fund) says that the reduction of criminal responsibility is at odds with what has been established in the Convention on the Rights of the Child, of the UN, the Brazilian Federal Constitution and the Statute of Children and Adolescents. This would be a decision, besides not solving the problem of violence, penalizes a population of teenagers due to mistaken assumptions.
In Brazil, teenagers today are more victims than perpetrators of violence. Of the 21 million Brazilian adolescents, only 0.013% committed acts against life. In fact, they, the teenagers, are the ones who are being systematically murdered. Brazil is second in the world in absolute numbers of teenage homicide, after Nigeria. Today, homicides now account for 36.5% of the causes of death by external factors of adolescents in the country, while for the total population it account for 4.8%.
More than 33,000 Brazilians between 12 and 18 were assassinated between 2006 and 2012. If current conditions prevail, other 42,000 teenagers could be victims of homicide between 2013 and 2019. “Victims have color, social class and address. The vast majority are black boys, poor, living on the outskirts of big cities,” says UNICEF.
The Associação Nacional dos Centros de Defesa da Criança e do Adolescente – ANCED/Seção DCI Brasil (National Association of Child Protection Centers and Adolescents – ANCED/DCI Section Brazil), an organization of national civil society engaged in the defense of human rights of Brazilian children and adolescents, and the Rede Nacional de Defesa do Adolescente em Conflito com a Lei (Renade or National Network of Defense of the Adolescent in Conflict with Law) also divulged a public statement denouncing the reduction of criminal age as an unconstitutional measure and submitting teenagers to an adult criminal system, contrary to international treaties signed by Brazil and the guidelines of the International Committee on the Rights of the Child of the United Nations.
“The Brazilian prison model is the cruelest face of an ineffective public policy and a violation of human rights, not shaping itself as adequate space to receive teenagers, people in a special stage of development. The reduction of infractional practices in adolescence necessarily involves addressing social inequalities and especially the implementation of the National Socio-Educational Assistance System [Sinase],” note ANCED and Renade.
The Núcleo Especializado de Infância e Juventude da Defensoria Pública de São Paulo (Specialized Center for Children and Youth of the Public Defender of São Paulo) submitted a technical note to all federal deputies manifesting itself against the PEC 171/93, since the Committee on Constitution and Justice of the House of Representatives will hold a public hearing to discuss the admissibility of the proposal and other related thereto.
The text of the note points out that the penal system hardening measures adopted over the years, showed themselves to be inefficient alternatives to reducing crime and providing security to the population. According to research from the Ministry of Justice, after the promulgation of the Lei dos Crimes Hediondos (Law of Heinous Crimes) (Law No. 8,072/1990), the prison population in Brazil jumped from 148,000 to 361,000 inmates between 1995 and 2005, the period in which there was growth of 143.91% in crime rates.
Also according to the Ministry of Justice, between December 2005 and December 2009, the prison population increased from 361,000 to 473,000 inmates – a growth of 31.05%, a period that coincided with the entry into effect of the law that has intensified the penalties of crimes related to drug trafficking (Law No. 11.343/2006).
The technical note also points out that in the 54 countries that reduced the legal age there was no decrease in crime, being that Germany and Spain backed down in the decision after verifying the ineffectiveness of the measure.
The Specialized Committee of the Promotion and Defense of the Rights of Children and Adolescents of the National College of General Public Advocates (Condege) also issued a public statement expressing repudiation of Proposed Constitutional Amendment that plans to reduce the legal age.
1. In reference to Federal Deputy Jair Bolsonaro, journalist José Luiz Datenas and Evangelical pastor Silas Malafaias, all known for their conservative views.