Brazil’s House of Representatives has voted in favor of a bill that will see youths tried as adults, a controversial move that is unlikely to deter criminal groups from recruiting minors.
Just a day after rejecting a proposal to lower the age of criminal responsibility from 18 to 16, Brazil’s Congress approved a watered down version of the bill with a vote of 323 in favor, 155 against and two abstentions, reported O Globo.
The new version of the bill no longer applies to cases of torture, drug trafficking and robbery, and now only covers violent crimes, reported Estadao.
The bill now faces a second vote in the House. If it passes, it will be sent to the Senate.
The proposed change has provoked fierce debate in Brazil. Its advocates — including the bill’s sponsor, right-wing congressman Laerte Bessa — say it will end a culture of impunity that has fueled youth crime. Bessa told the Guardian he sees the bill as a first step, and that in the long run he expects Brazill will reach “a stage in which we are able to determine whether a child in the womb has criminal tendencies, and if it does the mother won’t be allowed to give birth.”
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Putting aside the hardline, reactionary stance assumed by politicians like Bessa, there is nevertheless a certain logic to lowering the age of criminal responsibility. Latin America’s organized crime groups are notorious for recruiting minors to work as drug couriers, hitmen, and look-outs, as they are unlikely to face severe penalties if caught.
However, the negative impact of allowing more juveniles to be tried as adults will far outweigh any positives. Such a move will only further stigmative youths who are already at a high risk of dying violently.
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Additionally, an influx of children would only exacerbate Brazil’s overcrowded prisons, with as many as 40,000 additional inmates entering the system, according to estimates by Brazil’s Justice Minister. The new law would also expose the children to hardened criminals, drawing them ever further into the underworld and increasing the risk of recidivism.
On top of it all, it is also unlikely the law will dissuade criminal groups from using minors. The lack of harsher sentences isn’t the only reason why gangs recruit children — they are seen as disposable; easily discarded and replaced at little cost to the organization.