Support for reducing the age of criminal responsibility stems in large part from a recent increase in youth crime and the news coverage of a small number of very heinous crimes committed by minors. However, according to data published by the non-governmental organization, the Brazilian Forum on Public Security (pdf link), robberies and drug-dealing accounted for 38.7% and 27%, respectively, of all infractions committed by adolescents. Disturbingly, murder did account for 9% of juvenile crime in 2012, but that represents only 4% of murders within Brazil for the same year.
Currently, The Statue of Children and Adolescents mandates that children between the ages of 12 and 17 be tried in juvenile courts that suggest socio-educational measures for offenders.
At 18 years old, Brazil, along with Colombia and Peru, has the oldest ages of criminal responsibility in the world. Similar campaigns to reduce the age of criminal responsibility have been on-going in much of Latin America, and a recent ballot initiative in Uruguay did not get enough support to pass. Though the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child calls on states to set an age "below which children shall be presumed not to have the capacity to infringe the penal law," it does not recommend a particular age. Globally, children can be tried in criminal courts as young as 6 in Mexico and 7 in some US states.
The amendment still needs to be approved by both legislative houses. Despite the overwhelming approval of lowering the age of criminal responsibility within Brazil, international pressure may help to stop the amendment from going through. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights publicly came out against the measure last week.
Legislators in favor of reducing the age of criminal responsibility have actually cited the need to do so in order for Brazilian legislation to be more in line with that of developed nations in Europe. However, opponents of the reduction contend that it will do little to reduce crime since it does not combat the socioeconomic factors, such as poor schools and access to other basic services, that children and adolescents face, especially in Brazil's favelas.
In may ways, the push to lower the age of criminal responsibility ignores the way in which violence affects adolescents. Official data shows that in 2012 for all adolescents between the ages of 10 and 18 that died, 37% lost their lives to interpersonal violence. Murders of young Brazilians also reflect the country's socioeconomic and racial divides. According to the most recent Mapa da Violência (Map of Violence-produced by FLASCO), which dedicated an entire publication to the issue of violence committed against youth, between 2002 and 2012, the number of white youths murdered fell 32.3% while the murders of black youths rose 32.4%. Young Brazilians are also vulnerable to police violence.