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Sri Lanka: Proposal to Raise Minimum Age of Criminal Liability

(May 23, 2016) It was announced on May 19, 2016, that the Cabinet of ministers of Sri Lanka has approved a proposal to amend the country’s Penal Code, to change the age of criminal responsibility. (Sri Lanka to Amend Penal Code to Increase Minimum Age for Criminal Responsibility, COLOMBO PAGE (May 19, 2016).) At present, the Penal Code allows anyone eight years of age or older to be held responsible for criminal acts. (Penal Code (Jan. 1, 1885, as amended through 2006), REFWORLD, art. 5 (a).) It is the general practice in Sri Lanka for legislation to begin with draft preparation by the executive branch agencies before the matter is considered by the legislature. (Therese Perera, Legislative Drafting in Sri Lanka, LOOPHOLE (May 2011).)

Wijayadasa Rajapaksha, the Minister of Justice, has suggested raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12, arguing that this standard is more consistent with that applied in other countries. Furthermore, the Cabinet approved a provision in which children between the ages of 12 and 14 would face criminal responsibility only after a magistrate determined that they had the necessary maturity or knowledge to form the intent to commit a crime. (Sri Lanka to Amend Penal Code to Increase Minimum Age for Criminal Responsibility, supra.)

According to a report published by the Child Rights International Network, the minimum age of criminal responsibility in what the report includes as Asian countries ranges from 7 (e.g., in Lebanon, Pakistan, and Yemen) to 15 (e.g., in Bahrain and the Philippines). A number of jurisdictions set the age generally at 16, but permit charges to be laid in specified cases for those as young as 14 (e.g., China, Kazakhstan, and Vietnam). (Minimum Ages of Criminal Responsibility in Asia, Child Rights International Network website (last visited May 19, 2016).)