The Egyptian Coalition on Children’s Rights (ECCR) condemned on Saturday “irresponsible” calls by children’s rights activists demanding harsher penalties for children aged between 15 and 18 years old facing criminal charges.
Last week, Secretary-General of the state-affiliated National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM) Azza Ashmawi told state-run news agency MENA that the law governing sentencing limits for minors should be amended in a manner which would create harsher penalties.
Article 111 of 2008 amendment to the 1996 Child Law stipulates that “no accused person shall be sentenced to death, life imprisonment, or forced labour if, at the time of committing the crime, he had not reached the age of 18 years.”
ECCR said in its statement that “it is unacceptable that such calls be made by those who are expected to protect children’s right to justice and work on developing them.” The coalition warned that such an amendment would be a “setback” to achievements that civil society organisations secured for children before the 2011 revolution.
The NCCM secretary-general’s comments come in the wake of last week’s sentencing of two minors to 15 years in prison, the maximum allowed by law.
Mohamed Casper, 17, and Alaa Gumaa Ahmed, 16, were found guilty in the Port Said Juvenile Criminal Court for the murder of five-year-old Zeina Arafa on 13 November. Based on investigations, Casper and Ahmed trapped Zeina on the roof of her building with the intent to sexually assault her. When she screamed, the boys threw her off the roof.
Ashmawi said that the judiciary should not be constrained to sentencing restrictions in cases of particularly “heinous” crimes, adding that the sentencing guidelines should only be strictly applied to minors under 15 years of age.
The ECCR reminded that its lawyers have earlier called for holding accountable the parents of the two convicted minors, accusing them of negligence toward their sons’ upbringing. The coalition stated that one of the minors, Casper, has repeatedly broken the law in earlier incidents, adding that his family had “illegally and illegitimately” helped him escape legal accountability.
The coalition cautioned the state’s decision-makers and media outlets against “being emotionally driven toward making the amendments” or “inciting the public’s sympathy toward accepting the amendments”, respectively. It stressed that the solution lies in studying the causes for the spreading violence among children and creating “radical” changes to the environment where children are raised in a manner which would “protect children’s rights rather than violate them.”
Zeina’s murder and attempted rape resulted in public outrage last November. There have been calls for the death penalty for the suspects by Zeina’s family, sympathisers and activists in solidarity with the slain minor.