Members of the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) are criticising the Danish government’s proposals to lower the age of responsibility to 14, saying that the U.N. wants the age of responsibility around the world generally raised instead.
Last week, Justice Minister Brian Mikkelsen (Cons) said that a reduction in the age of criminal responsibility to 14 was within U.N. recommendations. Although a 2007 report from the CRC termed a criminal age of between 14 and 16 as acceptable, it also called on member countries to work to increase the criminal age.
“I don’t know enough about the minister to know whether he is looking for an alibi, but his comments resemble political comments in other countries where politicians consciously attempt to mislead the public,” says CRC former adviser Don Cipriani, who authored the draft of the United Nations view on the age at which children may be charged with a criminal offence.
The Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) is a body of 18 independent experts under the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights that monitors implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
“The CRC has repeatedly condemned reductions in the age of criminal responsibility, and the minister’s statement is clearly not a correct interpretation of recommendations from the Committee,” Cipriani says.
Current members of the CRC tend to agree.
“The Committee has always been against reducing the age of criminal responsibility. I am happy that the minister is using the United Nations as an argument, but of course I am not happy that he is using it in this way,” says CRC Member Maria Herczog, who adds that there is nothing to prove that a reduction reduces crime.
Herczog says she plans to question the Danish government next time the CRC is to study Danish conditions.
Other members of the Committee say they are worried at the signal effect that move will have on other countries.
“In Lithuania there is a debate about reducing the age of criminal responsibility from 14 to 12. Proponents of reductions in the new EU countries can now say that it Denmark can reduce from 15 to 14, then we can reduce from 14 to 13 or 12,” says CRC Member Dainius Puras.
Conservative Justice Spokesman Tom Behnke says he doesn’t understand the criticism and rejects the notion that the government proposal runs contrary to UN recommendations.
“The U.N. may have an idea that you shouldn’t reduce the age of criminal responsibility, but that doesn’t change the fact that the U.N. has said OK to 14 years of age. To say that we are going against U.N. recommendations is therefore an over-interpretation. It may be that we are doing something that the United Nations would prefer us not to do, but it is a decision we have taken because we find it necessary,” Behnke says.
The opposition Social Democratic Social Affairs Spokeswoman Mette Frederiksen says that Justice Minister Mikkelsen is using the United Nations as legitimacy in desperation at not being able to determine the government policy.
“There are many Conservatives who don’t like the idea of children going to prison. Everyone knows that it is the Danish People’s Party that has pushed through this reduction. So (Mikkelsen) is looking around to find something to hang it on – but even that doesn’t hold. At best, this is shoddy. At worst it is a conscious re-writing of the United Nations words,” Frederiksen says.
Edited by Julian Isherwood