Dominican Republic: Proposal to Toughen Sentences for Minors

[links in Spanish] On the 19th of September, the House of Representatives approved on second reading a controversial bill which amends seven articles of the Protection of the Rights of Boys, Girls and Adolescents Code (Minor Code-PDF). This reform aims to raise the maximum penalties for citizens who commit crimes before reaching the age of majority. The initiative, which has yet to be passed or debated by the Senate, proposes an increase of 3-10 years in prison for criminals aged 13-15, while for those between 16 to 18 years of age, the increase ranges from 5-15 years in prison.

On the first reading of the bill, it was passed with 99 votes in favour, out of a total of 112 participating representatives, and in the second reading with 95; in both cases, an overwhelming majority. This initiative has the support of the three-time representative and current president of the Lower Chamber, Abel Martínez, who has stated that the measure will help decrease the delinquency rate. Other important figures have also expressed that they consider this reform necessary. One key example is the five-time representative, Pelegrín Castillo, who stated the following on his Twitter account:

@pelegrinc: Amendment to the Minor Code made by @diputadosrd. It's sad to have to toughen public and judicial sanctions against minors, but it's inevitable.

However, various sectors of civil society have not shown the same support for the regulation. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) has spearheaded criticism against this piece of legislation. On the 20th of this month, a press conference was held in which the organization made clear its stance against the proposal, underscoring that this was not the answer to the wave of delinquency with which the Dominican Republic is currently grappling. In this vein, the well known social activist, Sergia Galván, updated her Twitter account with multiple criticisms such as:

@sergiagalvan: It is questionable to sanction girls, boys and adolescents who in many cases are victims of social exclusion.

@sergiagalvan: I'm asking, is more jail time for girls, boys and adolescents going to tackle delinquency?

In addition, the famous constitutional lawyer, Nassef Perdomo, stated:

@NassefPerdomo: Sad is the destiny of the country that believes that the place of its children is in prison, rather than in the classroom.

In the House of Representatives itself, although by an almost insignificant minority, there has been a degree of opposition. Representative Guadalupe Valdez – best known for her work on women's rights and gender equality – while not rejecting the proposals, has, in a post published on her website, called for a social consensus to be reached before the passing of new legislation and for the benefits to be weighed, as well as the setbacks.

For the moment, the outcome of the Upper Chamber's discussions on the initiative, due to take place next week, are awaited, as is the possibility of an agreement being reached between UNICEF and other civil society organizations working for the rights of the affected groups.

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