Brazil’s congress runs over children’s rights: HRW
July 6, Brasília: In the wee hours of the morning of July 1, students gathered in the visitor gallery of Brazil’s Chamber of Deputies jumped and sang in celebration. The deputies below had narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment to try 16- and 17-year-old children as adults for serious crimes, a regressive measure that would violate international law.
Twenty-four hours later the visitor’s gallery was empty, vacated by order of the president of the Chamber, Eduardo Cunha, and the deputies approved a rehashed proposal that listed a smaller number of crimes for which children would be prosecuted as adults. Cunha, a politician who is pushing for the amendment, had orchestrated the volte-face in an earlier meeting with ideological allies. Those opposed to the proposal allege the vote violated the Chamber’s rules of proceeding and said they could challenge it before the Supreme Court.The Chamber needs to hold another vote on the same amendment, and if it confirms its approval it will send the proposal to the Senate.
The two votes at the Chamber of Deputies came at the end of tumultuous sessions that pitted deputies who spoke in defense of human rights against the so-called “bancada da bala” (bullet caucus), made up of legislators who advocate gun ownership and other right-wing ideas.
During the debate on July 1, Augusto Rosa, a retired Military Police captain who attends sessions in uniform, said that those who would be affected by the measure are “delinquents,” not “innocent youth,” and he complained that the current juvenile system “doesn’t punish.” Deputy Ivan Valente responded that reducing the age of criminal majority increases crime, instead of reducing it. “We are not avengers; we are legislators,” he said.
Contrary to what proponents of the amendment say, Brazilian children are being held accountable for breaking the law through the existing juvenile system, which includes the possibility of confinement for up to three years. Supporters of the amendment also claim that trying children as adults will deter them from engaging in crime, when in fact available evidence indicates that this practice is likely to have precisely the opposite effect, increasing recidivism.
Until now, Brazil has been at the forefront of the World trend to provide broader legal protections to children. It was the first country in Latin America to incorporate the Convention on the Rights of the Child into its national legislation, which became a model for other countries in the region.
Brazil would abandon that leadership position if it eventually approved the amendment. The measure would be a very serious step back for the protection of the rights of children. And it would only serve to undermine efforts to reduce crime in the country. The members of Brazil´s Congress should not allow that to happen.
The Oslo Times