Norberto Liwsky

Towards the democratization of the juvenile criminal responsibility act

Norberto Liwsky

In the last few days, we have seen statements reported in the media mentioning again the need to promote a legal reform focused primarily on lowering the age of criminal responsibility. In accordance with its deeply held beliefs, once again, the Argentine Section of Defence for Children International (DCI-Argentina), reiterates its strong opposition to such approach.

The ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child by Argentina makes it essential that this legal framework should form the basis for discussing and formulating proposals for legal reform in relation to young people who are in conflict with the criminal law.

Argentina, notwithstanding its progressive policies on human rights put in place since 2003, is still to address the issue of not having a national juvenile justice system. In this respect, the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights has recently urged the Argentinian state to set one up in accordance with human rights guarantees and existing international standards.

In this regard, an unavoidable point of reference is General Comment No. 10 on “Children’s Rights in the Justice System”, which was adopted and shared with States Parties by the United Nations Committee for the Rights of the Child in 2007. In the section concerning the minimum age of criminal responsibility, it is clearly stated that the international tendency should be towards raising the age threshold and the minimum age set at 16 is commended. The latter is in fact the minimum age set out in Argentine legislation; it has however been lowered in recent history, during the last military dictatorship and within the context of state terrorism.

The parliamentary and social debate on the reform of our juvenile justice system remains undoubtedly an unresolved issue which needs to be addressed with an adequately comprehensive and rights-based approach.

On the other hand, we are well aware of how legal discussion of this kind can lead to unnecesary confusion within the social community, particularly when considering certain heinous crimes committed by people under the age of 18; they consequently become associated with the attempt to attenuate the pain of the victims and public concerns which were caused as a result.

In all the considerations which will undoubtedly result from the legal debates around this issue, we must firstly recognize that criminal law alone will be unable to provide the necessary answers, without putting in place public policy strategies based on social inclusion and building juvenile citizenship, opposing this association to violence which pervades their everyday life.

Recently, we have certainly made significant progress in terms of recognising the human rights of young people, with particular regard to the National Education Act, which makes secondary education compulsory and sets the right to vote at the age of 16.

These laws presently make up a foundation of rights, which is recognised as valid and indisputable by society at large. When considering the establishment of a juvenile justice system, we warmly invite for a serious and in-depth discussion to take place, in order to avoid falling into simplistic and magic formulas which would clearly add little to building a fairer and more equitable society.  


Norberto Liwski, President of DCI – Argentina

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