Calls for Death Penalty for Kids in Brazil


Calls for Death Penalty for Kids in Brazil

The assassination of two high school sweethearts by a minor
in São Paulo has provoked a wave
of protests in Brazil including
calls for capital punishment for juveniles convicted of murder.

Human rights advocates, however, classified the outrage and the
proposal for harsher punishment as a
knee-jerk reaction.

by:

Tom Phillips

 

Four thousand protestors hit the streets of São Paulo demanding harsher punishments for young
offenders—including the death sentence—after a 16-year-old boy was accused of murdering two teenagers. São Paulo’s governor also vowed
to raise the maximum sentence for minors from 3 to 8, or for violent crimes to 10 years.

Brazil was stunned earlier this month by deaths of high school sweethearts Liana Friedenbach, 16, and Felipe Caffé,
19. The couple had been camping in Embu-Guaçu, São Paulo state, when they disappeared. Two days later, their bodies
were found—Liana had been raped and stabbed 15 times, her boyfriend shot once in the back of the neck.

Proposals put to the House of Deputies by São Paulo’s governor Geraldo Alckmin suggest changes to the Children
and Adolescents’ Statute (ECA), which defends the rights of under-18s. This would open the door for longer sentences. The
changes would affect convicted criminals involved in crime "carried out with violence or serious threat".

Participants in Saturday’s "Peace with Justice" march demanded even more drastic moves. Rabbi Henry Sobel,
president of São Paulo’s Israelite Congregation, was amongst those backing the death penalty. Others demanded permanent
imprisonment.

"Judaism categorically condemns the death penalty. But in my capacity as a father I support the death penalty in
exceptionally cases like that of Liana and Felipe," Sobel told the
Folha de S. Paulo newspaper.

The march, organized by friends and parents of the murdered teenagers, officially called for the age of criminal
responsibility to be lowered and backed Alckmin’s proposed changes to the Children and Adolescents’ Statute.

But Renato Simões, president of the Legislative Assembly’s Human Rights Commission, criticised the governor’s
plans as a knee-jerk reaction. The PT (Workers’ Party) deputy said they were an attempt to "hitch a ride on the social
upheaval" caused by the murders.

As well as raising the maximum sentence, Alckmin wants to move offenders to regular prisons at 18. They can
currently remain in FEBEM young offenders institutions until 21. In April there was outcry when 247 youths were moved to 4
adult prisons in São Paulo.

"Brazil will be condemned to a future of violence, crime and repression if it is unable to provide its youth with the
minimum standards of protection as required by law," said an Amnesty International spokesperson. "The São Paulo state
authorities must make good their promises to bring the FEBEM into line with the Children and Adolescents’ Statute and not allow
the system to be held to ransom by a minority of officials who perpetuate the use of violence, torture, and in some cases,
corruption, with impunity."

Some see Alckmin’s moves as a way of doing the opposite—bringing the statute in line with his vision of Brazil’s
prison system. However, authorities argue that it is a way of improving security. Prisoners between 18 and 21 are normally
responsible for disturbances in the units, according to São Paulo Justice Secretary, Alexandre de Moraes.

São Paulo’s notorious FEBEM (Foundation for the Well-being of Minors) system is not known for its soft touch.
The institutions, supposed to re-integrate child offenders into society, are frequently overcrowded and often witness rioting
and violence. When UN special rapporteur Asma Jehangir visited the country in September she was scathing about the
juvenile detention system.

"The rapporteur was shocked by what she saw at the FEBEM and with the posture of São Paulo’s governors," said
Sandra Carvalho from Human Rights group Justiça Global.

There are currently 6,705 minors in São Paulo’s FEBEMs, according to recent figures. 1,717 of these are over 18,
and would be affected by Alckmin’s proposals.

Although the maximum sentence is currently 3 years, the average juvenile stays in a FEBEM for between 4 and 8
months. Nevertheless as BBC reporter Isabel Murray recently commented: "For the youths, it is an eternity."

The 16-year-old, arrested in connection with the two murders, is being held in the Brás FEBEM, whilst
investigations continue.

 

Tom Phillips is a British journalist living in Rio de Janeiro. He writes for a variety of publications on politics
and current affairs, as well as various aspects of the
cultura brasileira. Tom can be reached on:
tominrio@yahoo.co.uk and his articles can also be found at:
www.leedsstudent.org.uk

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