Human Rights Watch has issued an 82-page report titled, "Adults Before Their Time: Children in Saudi Arabia's Criminal Justice System,"
The report documents the routine arrest of children for such "offenses" as begging, running away from home, or being alone with a member of the opposite sex. Prosecutors can hold children, like adults, for up to six months before referring them to a judge. In the case of girls, authorities can detain them indefinitely, without judicial review, for what they say is "guidance." Detention centers mix children under investigation or trial with children convicted of a crime and sometimes with adults. Judges regularly try children without the presence of lawyers or sometimes even guardians, even for crimes punishable by death, flogging, or amputation.
Saudi Arabia sets no clear age when children can be treated as adults in criminal cases. Instead, judges use signs of puberty to determine criminal responsibility. The report documents 12 cases in which judges tried even young children as adults, based on physical signs of puberty such as pubic hair or menstruation and without any consideration of emotional or mental maturity. In 2007, Saudi Arabia executed three juvenile offenders, including a 15-year-old boy who was only 13 at the time of the alleged crime. International standards set 12 years as the minimum age of criminal responsibility, and prohibit the death penalty for crimes committed by persons under age 18 at the time of the crime.
"In Saudi Arabia's justice system, a child who commits a minor offense and a hardened adult criminal are treated similarly," said Clarisa Bencomo, children's rights researcher for the Middle East at Human Rights Watch. "Instead of helping reintegrate these children into society, it exposes them to new dangers and greater abuses.
To read the full report visit: //hrw.org/reports/2008/saudicrd0308/
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