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Lowering the age of criminal responsibility not a solution: PG Shameem

PG Shameem said that changing the environment which children who are susceptible to crime would be far more beneficial than lowering the age of criminal responsibility.

Ameera Osmanagic
21 June 2024, MVT 09:13
[File] Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem --
Ameera Osmanagic
21 June 2024, MVT 09:13

Lowering the age of criminal responsibility is not a solution, said Prosecutor General Hussain Shameem, suggesting to change the environment where juvenile delinquents live.

In his most recent blog post titled "Juvenile offenders - The solution is not lowering the age, changing enivronment", Shameem wrote that police and some government officials believe that the solution to stopping child offenders is lowering the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12 or ten.

However, he added, children fall into the life of crime because the environment they live in facilitates such behaviour, and elaborated that changing their environment would be the optimal solution.

"Law enforcement agencies have the power to do it. However, changing the environment and children's behaviour is not like pressing a switch. The result would not be instantaneous. It will take patience and persistence. State resources should also be spent on it, to change the child and the environment around them simultaneously," Shameem wrote.

"If the child's parents are not employed, help them get a job. Special opportunities should be provided to the children within the education sector. They should be involved in universities and vocational training programmes to reduce time spent with bad influence. At the same time, other children close to the child should also be brought into these programmes gradually. The environment surrounding the child should be changed entirely," he said.

Shameem added that the reasons behind committing crimes are different for children and adults.

According to government data, there are about 200 children living in criminal environments. If estimates are made assuming that the current criminal population of Maldives is between 1,500 to 2,000, not changing the course of these 200 children's lives may likely become a national issue, he said.

The blog post also highlighted that over 70 percent of the currently incarcerated population is imprisoned for drug-related crimes, adding that if imprisonment could solve any issue in the country, it would be drugs.

He gave the analogy of a hospital, saying, "Doing what needs to be done to prevent diseases is what makes a hospital, a hospital. But data clearly shows more diseases are acquired from there," he added.

He argued that putting a child in jail would not be in their best interest, considering the negative influences they might encounter there. He compared it to taking children to a place with fire to teach them to protect themselves from it.

He also wrote that there are systems already in place within the law to take action and provide treatment for children who are subjected to crimes. However, he stressed that amendments could be made, suggesting that making programs for parents mandatory and more clearly defining the roles of agencies would be beneficial.

However, there is no reason why measures cannot be implemented within the existing laws, he said.

"This is not a small task. Just as we need patience to raise our children, we need patience to correct them. We don't let our children go when they do things that don't agree with us. Would you not work with those kids patiently and persistently to guide them to the right path? These are also kids just like that."

Shameem went on to add that often times what such families need is a mentor to guide them, and suggested members of the elderly citizens' club as potential candidates for such mentors.

"If these efforts bring back even one child and their family to us, then it would be worth it. I believe the investments made to change the environment of a child is far less expensive than putting them in jail," he said.

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