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As discussed in the previous section, until the passage of the Penal Code in 1940, minors as young as 8 years (in the colonial period) and 9 years (during the Brazilian Empire) could be held responsible for illicit actions, even though the Imperial Penal Code of 1890 specified that criminal liability was reserved for those over 14 years. With the passage of the Penal Code of 1940, the legal age of majority was established at 18, and it remains so to this day. Article 228 of the 1988 Constitution reaffirmed that persons under the age of 18 are not criminally liable.

The notable changes of current legislation, the Statute of the Child and Adolescent, make one additional distinction regarding criminal responsibility. Those under 12 years of age are classified legally as “children” and are considered completely exempt, not capable of understanding the consequences of their actions. Those between the ages of 13-18 years are classified as “adolescents” and are presumed to understand the implications of their actions. While they are criminally responsible, they are not liable for punishment under the adult Penal Code.

In recent years, there has been much debate among the public and the national legislature regarding lowering the age of legal majority. The discussions reached an apex in 2015 with the passage of a bill in the Chamber of Representatives (Camara de Deputados) proposing a constitutional amendment that would lower the age of majority to 16 years. The proposed bill was authored in 1993, but did not gain enough traction in the legislature for passage. At the time this chapter was being written, the bill was in the Senate committee process. However, its passage there is unlikely due to the lack of support. In addition, the current president, Dilma Rousseff, is against the legislation and has affirmed her intention to veto, if passed by the legislature.

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