Treatment of Juvenile Offenders
The death penalty has long been a controversial issue, but it is even more so when it involves a person under eighteen years old. Adolescents are generally treated differently than adults. Juveniles who commit violent acts such as sexual assault or murder are not looked upon as mature enough to fully comprehend their actions. They are also thought to be young enough to rehabilitate effectively.
Amnesty International, a well known humane organization, has studied the number of death sentences given to criminals who were under the age of eighteen at the time of the crime, including cases where the actual execution was not carried out until they were older. They have documented more than 60 cases of juvenile capital punishment since 1990 across nine separate countries.
In 1989, the United Nations held the Convention on the Rights of the Child to establish protective measures for any person less than eighteen years of age. The convention produced a treaty calling for a global ban on child execution, along with defining many other specific rights for adolescents. Every country except the United States, South Sudan, and Somalia signed and adopted the treaty. In January 2015, Somalia began the process of ratification. It may seem odd that the U.S. declined to participate, but since then the U.S. Supreme Court has declared it illegal to put any person to death for crimes they committed prior to reaching adulthood. The case Roper v. Simmons established this by a vote of five to four in 2005. Justice Kennedy summed up the ban on juvenile execution: “When a juvenile offender commits a heinous crime, the State can exact forfeiture of some of the most basic liberties, but the State cannot extinguish his life and his potential to attain a mature understanding of his own humanity.”
Currently, the only country that still executes minors is Iran. Although they agreed to the treaty which banned this practice, they have continued to give the death penalty to juveniles. Other countries have protested this, and an organization called “Stop Child Executions” formed for the sole purpose of encouraging Iran to cease this practice. The organization works to increase public awareness of this situation, suggest other viable methods of punishment, and maintains online petitions.