Mozambique: Penal Code - Amendments to Age of Criminal Responsibility

Maputo — The Legal and Constitutional Affairs Commission of the Mozambican parliament, the Assembly of the Republic, has, in its latest redraft of the country's Penal Code raised the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 16.

The Penal Code was to have been debated on the floor of the Assembly on Wednesday, and human rights campaigners were dismayed to find that the draft of the code circulated, and dated 23 April, still maintained the age of criminal responsibility as 10.

This was inherited from the Portuguese Penal Code of 1886, and is flagrant violation not only of Mozambican family law, but even of later colonial legislation (such as a decree of 1962 on the supervision of minors).

But at the last moment, the Legal Affairs Commission produced an addendum, dated 30 April, specifically to take account of protests not only from civil society, but also from the Attorney-General's Office and the Ministry of the Interior, none of whom thought that ten year olds should ever be classified as criminals.

Not only has the age of criminal responsibility in the draft code been raised to 16, so has the definition of a minor when it comes to cases of rape. The previous draft said that any sex act with a minor, with or without consent, will be punished with between two and eight years imprisonment - but only if the minor is aged 12 or under.

Human rights activists pointed out that, under the Mozambican constitution, anyone under the age of 18 is a minor. In the addendum, the commission now states that anyone who has sex of any kind with a minor under the age of 16 can go to jail for up to eight years.

Perhaps the most significant change in the addendum is the elimination of an article that sought to make both prostitution and soliciting criminal offences.

Under this article, prostitutes and their clients could have been jailed for up to six months. Removing this article will eliminate the possibility of the police dragging women who sell their bodies though the courts.

Child prostitutes will be sent to the minors' tribunals which should take “measures of assistance, education and correction envisaged in special legislation”.

Pimping remains a crime, which can be punished with a prison term of up to two years. Pimps who threaten or commit violence against prostitutes, or who trick women into becoming prostitutes can be sentenced to up to eight years. So can relatives or guardians who force women into prostitution.

The addendum also increases the maximum penalty for illegal hunting, and for the illicit killing of protected species from eight to 12 years.

The Commission also accepted advice that Mozambican legislation should not use derogatory terms such as “louco” (“crazy”), or refer to “psychic anomalies” - in all such cases, the term now used in the addendum is “mental illness” or “mentally ill”, which is the terminology approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Despite being on the agenda, the Assembly did not in fact discuss the penal code on Wednesday, since it spent most of its time on a bill concerning trade union rights in the public administration. The revised Penal Code will thus receive its final reading and vote later in this parliamentary sitting.

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