Youth & Children's Rights

Trends Around the World in Lowering the Minimum Age of Criminal Responsibility (MACR)

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One of the most contentious issues in juvenile justice policy is determining the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR). There is a large variation around the world on what the appropriate age is, and even within nations differences exist depending upon the nature of the crime and the jurisdiction. In Iran the age is different for each sex, with girls being held responsible at age nine and boys at age fifteen.

The United Nations, through the Committee on the Rights of the Child, stated in a 2007 general comment, “Children’s rights in juvenile justice states that ‘a minimum age of criminal responsibility below the age of 12 years is considered by the Committee not to be internationally acceptable.’” Despite many years of effort there is little consensus around this issue.

In the Philippines, as reported in The Manila Bulletin, there is a movement in the legislature to lower the MACR from fifteen to twelve. The move has been heavily criticized by the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Council, which oversees implementation of a 2006 reform law that places the nation in the vanguard of Asian progress on juvenile justice issues. The law, the first of its kind in Asia, was explicitly passed to bring the country closer to its obligations as a signatory of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and, “pursuant to the provisions of the Philippine Constitution and Philippine special laws protecting children,” supporters of the law contend that the efforts are a “knee jerk” reaction to a rising crime rate.

In the United States, one of only two non-signatory nations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, the situation is even more complex. The lowest age is six, in North Carolina. Several states have no set standard, and thus rely on the common law age of seven. In New York,Reuters recently reported on efforts by the top judge to raise the age from sixteen to eighteen, but only for certain non-violent offenses.

Infosur Hoy outlines a nearly mirror image in Uruguay, where a referendum will be held to raise the age from sixteen to eighteen. Two opposition parties, supported by victims of crime and business interests support the measure, but the ruling party opposes it. England has the lowest MACR, ten, in Western Europe, and is debating raising the age. The age was fourteen, but after a brutal murder of a toddler by two ten year olds in 1993, the age was reduced. Now those who oppose raising the age point to other heinous crimes by youth.

A March, 8, Vancouver Sun story reports the position of Pakistan’s Interior Minister that, “Children in Pakistan grow up faster than those else-where because of the country’s hot climate and spicy food…” The minister is helping to block efforts to raise the age from eight to twelve. The legal designation of children is being sought by human rights advocates not only for juvenile justice, but to make it easier to implement laws against child pornography, child prostitution, child molestation, and human trafficking.

A policy paper by the Child Rights International Network indicates that two nations have recently lowered the age, Georgia and Panama. Others are considering lowering the age, including Argentina, Brazil, France, Hungary, Korea, Mexico, Peru, the Russian Federation, and Spain. The report states, “CRIN has collected worrying evidence that a growing number of States in all regions, far from fullfilling their legal obligations to respect the rights of all children, are moving backwards in their approach to juvenile justice and criminalising more and younger children.”