A new proposed legal reform in Guatemala would allow minors involved in serious crimes to be prosecuted, as lawmakers attempt to tackle the thorny issue of child recruitment by criminal gangs.
The initiative, which seeks to reform eight articles of the Civil Code, is being spearheaded by Gudy Rivera, a former president of Congress and currently a deputy with ruling party Partido Patriota.
Rivera told journalists the reforms would make possible the prosecution of minors aged between 14 and 18 for certain crimes, although he did not specify which.
The new proposal would also introduce punishments for the parents of children who have committed crimes and triple the penalties for adults who recruit them into criminal gangs, reported Prensa Libre.
InSight Crime Analysis
The fact that minors escape prosecution for serious crimes is often cited as a factor that encourages criminal groups to recruit and use children – both in Guatemala and in other countries such as Colombia.
However, to change this law would prove controversial as according to international agreements such as the UN's children's rights convention -- of which Guatemala is a signatory -- minors recruited into armed groups, including criminal gangs, should be treated as victims, not criminals.
This approach places the onus on states to help, not punish, children involved in the groups, even if they have committed serious crimes -- a position Mexico has just come around to after more than a decade of objection.
Finding the balance between the two positions that protects children's rights from both angles will be an extremely difficult and delicate task. Rivera's comments suggesting the proposal was in response to recent events -- presumably the case of two schoolgirl murderers arrested a week before -- is thus worrying. Knee-jerk reactions to sensational crimes are rarely effective and in this case could actively harm already traumatized children.