Juntos por el Cambio (JxC) presidential candidate Patricia Bullrich said on Sunday that if she wins the general election on October 22, she will promote legislation to change the Penal Code in order to lower the legal age of criminal responsibility for minors.
Bullrich added that she will present a package of bills to Congress on December 10, the day on which Argentina’s new president will be inaugurated. The package will include economic, penal, and educational reforms.
“Among those bills will be one to lower the age of criminal responsibility for minors,” Bullrich said while visiting northern Greater Buenos Aires. “We have had a bill since 2018 [in Congress] that [National Deputy] Cristian Ritondo presented again recently to lower the legal age of criminal responsibility.”
Teenagers under 16 cannot be tried or sentenced in Argentina, according to a 1983 law that raised the age from 14. Minors between 16 and 18 are subject to a different penal system than adults: only those who are proven guilty of committing a crime punishable with over two years of jail time can be sentenced, and they can only go to jail when they turn 18. Until then, a judge can order them to be held in a specialized juvenile institution.
Several bills regarding the minimum age of criminal accountability have been presented in Congress in past years, each with different characteristics, but none have been successful. Human rights and children’s rights organizations have criticized many of them. The one that Bullrich referenced and that Ritondo presented in November aims to lower the age to 14.
“The state is abandoning the victims and also those minors who will surely commit crimes again because they were not held accountable for their actions,” Ritondo said last year. “That’s why we believe the age of criminal responsibility must be lowered and that those between 14 and 18 need to have a special system to respond to their situation accordingly.”
Bullrich, who was security minister under President Mauricio Macri (2015-2019) said neighbors tell her they feel abandoned. “They live in a country in which everything is chaotic, and they don’t know if they will be able to return when they leave their houses,” Bullrich added. “They feel the country is a mess and that they don’t have any opportunities for progress.”
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In 2019, JxC’s government presented a bill to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 15, but said 15-year-olds would only be sentenced if they were found guilty of committing a crime with a potential maximum sentence of 15 years or more. Those between 16 and 17 would be tried for crimes punishable by three or more years in prison. However, the legislation failed to make it out of the Chamber of Deputies.
“Lowering the age of criminal responsibility is an old wish of those who want to more thoroughly control kids,” said the Organization against Police and Institutional Repression (CORREPI by its Spanish acronym) in 2019, when the bill was presented in Congress. “They don’t care about them suffering from bad diets or school closings, or that their parents are unemployed and they’re being recruited by police gangs in their neighborhoods. [All of this is lost] in the ‘meritocracy’ discourse.”
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— With information from Télam