n South African Journal of Criminal Justice - Proposals for the review of the minimum age of criminal responsibility

Volume 26, Issue 3
  • ISSN : 1011-8527
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2118



The minimum age of criminal capacity in South Africa used to be seven years of age, one of the lowest in the world. The Child Justice Act raised that age from seven to 10 years, and retained the rebuttable presumption of criminal incapacity for those children aged 10 years or older but under the age of 14. The Act also provided for a review of the minimum age, with a view to raising it, within five years of the Act's commencement. This article explores the current international debates about setting a minimum age of criminal responsibility, to garner ideas for the upcoming review. The relevant provisions of the Child Justice Act and their practical implementation are interrogated. The conclusion is that the current provisions fall short of international standards in a number of ways, and that children's rights are at risk in the current system. The setting of a new, single minimum age of criminal responsibility is proposed, together with the abolition of the presumption which will obviate the need for the assessment of criminal capacity. The author prefers 14 as the new minimum age, but considers 12 the more likely age to be accepted by the legislature.

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