Thirteen-year-olds face being locked up in crime crackdown

FRANCE'S Human Rights Commission and professionals working with children are protesting against government proposals for dealing with youth crime, which include the introduction of detention centres for children as young as 13.

Justice minister Dominique Perben last week presented the proposals to the cabinet, including President Chirac's election promise to bring back "closed centres" for persistent juvenile offenders.

The last centres fermes were closed over 20 years ago, but during the presidential and general election campaigns earlier this year, security and law and order were a major issue. Nearly all main candidates advocated bringing back the centres, though professionals dealing with children and young people say they are likely to lead to further violence rather than reintegration.

Mr Perben said that the centres would only be for six to 10 children who would be closely supervised and follow a strongly educational programme aimed at returning them to normal life.

The worst youth violence is largely concentrated in rundown areas around big cities. Most trouble involves children aged between 14 and 16, though teachers report that it is spreading to younger pupils.

At school, prevention is the official aim, and reintegration rather than exclusion. Serious offenders can be sent to classes-relais - special units, run by educational and youth justice authorities, which aim to remotivate pupils .

Under a crucial 1945 ruling, children have their own courts, and for those aged under 17, penalties such as imprisonment and fines may not exceed half the adult sentence. Since 1987, it has been forbidden to hold under-16s in custody.

But there are fears the ruling could be overturned under the new law. Mr Perben's Bill provides for "closed educational centres" for 13 to 18-year-olds, and incarceration for minors awaiting trial who abscond, and it would appoint local, non-professional, judges to rule on less serious offences.

Log in or register for FREE to continue reading.

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you