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Proposed law amendments to raise criminal responsibility age

By Khetam Malkawi - Feb 11,2014 - Last updated at Feb 11,2014

AMMAN — UNICEF has proposed major amendments to the Juvenile Law that seek to raise the age of criminal responsibility from seven to 12 years of age.

“We would [have liked] to raise it to 18; still this is a good step. We really advocate for it to be passed this year,” said Michele Servadei, UNICEF’s deputy representative to Jordan.

“In many cases, children commit minor crimes, and if we give them rehabilitation and proper services, we hope it is passed and is given priority,” Servadei told The Jordan Times in a recent interview.

Thus, UNICEF and other Jordanian partners proposed major amendments to the law, including adopting the rehabilitation approach instead of punishment, he added.

The proposed law is a complete makeover of the old one, according to Maha Homsi, chief of child protection at UNICEF Jordan.

The current law went into effect in 1968.

Homsi explained that the new law represents a “paradigm shift” from a punitive outlook of the juvenile into a restorative one, safeguarding the child’s well-being and ensuring his/her reintegration into society.

The new law adopts a social reform view of the child, and ensures that children are treated in a manner that facilitates their reintegration into society, she noted.

“This includes measures such as the establishment of specialised police, prosecution and judiciary system; an alternative sentencing system to detention such as community service, rehabilitation courses and psychosocial support,” Homsi told The Jordan Times in an interview via e-mail.

The proposed law broadens the definition of a child in need of protection, adding categories like working children and offenders younger than 12 years of age. It also includes a provision on legal aid to children by the government, she added.

The Ministry of Social Development is a strong advocate for the amended law and has helped shape it, Homsi said, adding that the National Council for Family Affairs, the Ministry of Justice and the Judicial Council also support the proposed changes.

In 2013, 2,121 children were being held in juvenile centres, according to figures she cited.

“Statistics show that 80 per cent of those juveniles commit minor offences that could be resolved through mediation, community rehabilitation programmes or community service, rather than placement in institutions where they are exposed to hard core juveniles who [have] committed serious crimes,” Homsi noted.

She also cited a pilot project that was implemented in Jordan, through which 28 youths were referred from detention centres to rehabilitation programmes, and the results showed that over a short-term follow-up period, most youths did not re-offend, with a very low recidivism rate of 11 per cent.

“Short-term effects of the pilot programme on diversion include increases in youth self-control, selection of pro-social peers, and increases in parental monitoring,” Homsi explained, adding that parent responses to semi-structured interviews suggest that diversion reduced the stigma and the negative influence of incarcerated delinquent peers on their sons.

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