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JUVENILE CRIME TRENDS IN BRAZIL

In the first two decades of the twenty-first century, Brazil witnessed the intensification of the public debate about the possibilities of lowering the age of legal responsibility. Although they still contain passionate defenses both in favor and opposed to change the age of criminal responsibility in the country, the discourse of both sides lacks a basis in concrete data regarding the participation of adolescents in crime, especially violent crime. This comes about for two main reasons: first, the discourse is heavy with previously adopted defensive positions of an ideological nature without room for middle ground or the building of consensus points and, second, the difficulty of getting official data on the profile of criminal offenders in Brazil. For these reasons, Brazil has seen a long debate about the possibility of reducing the legal age without, in most cases, minimally reliable data incorporated in the discussion.

If access to official data on the profile of criminal offenders in Brazil is already considered difficult, with regard to juveniles who have committed crimes, this difficulty is redoubled. The information about juveniles “in conflict with the law” (the terminology used in the ECA) is even more scarce. Ironically, the intensification of the debate about the project on reducing the legal age in recent years has highlighted the need for information on juvenile crime rates, resulting in the production of more consistent data by some of the states of the federation and its compilation in a systematic way.

According to data from the 9th Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security, Brazil went from a total of 4245 adolescents completing a sentence in the juvenile justice system in 1996 to 23,066 teenagers in 2013, an increase of 443.36 % in less than two decades. Of the 23,066 adolescents completing a sentence in 2015, 15,221 juveniles were serving a sentence of imprisonment. This explosive increase in the number of young people sentenced points not only to the increased participation ofjuvenile offenders but also to the expansion of the application by the juvenile justice system of social control mechanisms of imprisonment provided for by the Statute of the Child and Adolescent (ECA) over this period (Graph 4.1).

The rate of juveniles between 12 and 17 years under sentencing by ECA increased from 97.7 per 100,000 in 2012 to 111.3 in 2013, a variation of 13.3 %>

Graph 4.1. Juveniles under ECA sentencing in Brazil—1996-2013. Fonte: Secretaria Especial dos Direitos Humanos da Presidencia da Rephblica (SEDH/PR)/Subsecretaria de Promoao dos Direitos da Criana e do Adolescente (SPDCA). Levantamento nacional do atendimento socioeducativo ao adolescente em conflito com a lei; Instituto Brasileiro de Geografia e Estatistica (IBGE); Forum Brasileiro de Segurana Phblica.

in the period. However, in 2013 some states registered juvenile sentencing rates up to four times higher than the national average, as is the case of Acre (396.9 per 100,000), the Federal District of Brasilia (294.5 per 100,000), Espirito Santo (236.4 per 100,000), and Sao Paulo (226.4 per 100 thousand). This indicates that both juvenile crime and the implementation of sentencing are disproportionately distributed throughout the country (Forum Brasileiro de Seguran^a Pfiblica 2015).

Of the total number of illegal acts committed by adolescents in Brazil in 2013, theft constituted the largest percentage with 42 % followed by drug trafficking, with 24.8 %. Homicides committed by teenagers, usually presented as the main argument for the defense of the reduction of legal age, represented 9.2 % of the illegal acts committed by adolescents sentenced in Brazil that year.

Another way to measure the participation of adolescents in the murders committed in the country is to compare the total number of homicide cases either cleared or under investigation with the share of such cases reportedly committed by teenagers aged 12-17 years. According to the data of the 9th Brazilian Yearbook of Public Security, in 2014, there were 17,854 murders either cleared or under investigation, and of these 1915 were committed by teenagers between the ages of 12 and 17 years, making the percentage of juveniles reported and/or charged as suspects for homicides 10.7 % of the total homicide cases in Brazil that year. Whether using this measure or examining the percentage of juveniles sentenced for ECA infractions with definitions similar to homicide, one can say with some confidence that teenagers account for 9-10 % of all murders in Brazil in the last 2 years.

However, it is important to point out that these data, although aggregated by the Brazilian Forum on Public Security, are provided primarily through the State Departments of Public Safety and Social Defense and the State Civil Police, who are not obliged to publish data on juveniles. Additionally, the data available includes information from only 15 of the 27 states in Brazil, making it difficult to have accurate estimates of national juvenile crime rates.

Despite its incompleteness, it is possible to detect, with these data, a close resemblance between the profile of juveniles and adult offenders. In the case of adult offenders, those sentenced for committing theft and drug trafficking predominate among the percentage of those incarcerated (Forum Brasileiro de Seguranqa Phblica 2015).

It is also crucial to point out that juveniles, especially non-whites, make up a significant portion of all murder victims in the country, either as a murder victim or a victim of police lethality. The annual homicide rate of children and adolescents between 0 and 19 years increased from 3.1 per 100,000 in 1980 to 16.3 per 100,000 in 2013, a cumulative increase of 426.9 % in these three decades (Waiselfisz 2015). When analyzing only juveniles aged 16 and 17 years, the segment of the population that will be most affected by the proposed reduction of the legal age in Brazil to 16 years of age, the homicide rate in 2013 was 54.1 per 100,000 inhabitants. This rate is about 2.5 times higher than the already high homicide rate of 20.4 murders per 100,000 registered in the country in the same year. Although the discussion about the effects of crime on a possible reduction of the age of majority from 18 to 16 years is still open, it is certain that teens in this age group are most vulnerable to the murders in Brazil.

 
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