The Colombian House of Representatives has approved a wide-ranging Citizen Security Law, which includes an amendment to the country’s penal code that imposes harsher penalties for criminal minors.
The Citizen Security Law will tackle various public safety issues including soccer hooligan violence, child trafficking, and criminal gang activity, while giving the Prosecutor General’s Office the power to create new positions to help combat these crimes, reported Caracol Radio.
A key provision is one that means juvenile delinquents will face tougher penalties for their crimes. Youths between 17 and 18 years old will no longer be able to leave incarceration on their 21st birthday. They will instead be made to serve the full term of their criminal sentence, an act that aims to cut down on the high number of assaults, robberies and murders committed by minors.
An initial idea to raise the maximum sentence for minors from eight to 10 years was ultimately dismissed, although the government has been keen to amend a legal system that has seen minors increasingly used as “cannon fodder” by criminal organizations, due to their relative impunity.
National Police officials reported on Monday that from January 1 of this year until May 29, 10,333 minors have been captured for possible involvement in crimes, and that among the few that remain in jail are 186 accused killers.
Several other social and criminal issues are due to be addressed if the law is passed by the Senate and subsequently approved by President Juan Manuel Santos.
Those convicted of trafficking minors will receive a charge similar to kidnapping, landing them a prison term of up to 30 years, while those accused of forcing children to work and beg in the streets may receive a sentence of up to 12 years.
Cell phone theft, a common offense in Colombia, will also be deterred with the passage of the new public safety measures. A “blacklist” of stolen cell phones will be created so that thieves are impeded from re-activating the stolen merchandise, while all cell phone vendors will require a license.
This soccer season, meanwhile, has seen the conviction of one hooligan for the murder of another, a team being attacked in the locker room with daggers, and a game being suspended because a player was hit by a flying bottle of Aguardiente. The proposed law will impose fines and prison sentences on soccer hooligans caught disturbing the peace, as well as prohibit entry to games for up to three years.
In February, Interior and Justice Minister German Vargas Lleras championed the new public security proposal as a way to fight drug gangs and neo-paramilitary groups (called BACRIM by the Colombian Government) that continue to fight with guerrillas and the state for control of rural drug-trafficking routes in areas across the country.