Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

for Human Rights in Iran

Promoting tolerance and justice through knowledge and understanding
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran

Children, Yet Convicted as Adults: A Report from Abdorrahman Boroumand Center

Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
Abdorrahman Boroumand Center
October 10, 2019

In May 2019, at least 85 alleged juvenile offenders were sitting on death row in the Islamic Republic of Iran. Last year, seven child offenders were executed, and since the year 2000, Iran has put to death at least 140 individuals for offenses they allegedly committed as children. Today, on World Day Against the Death Penalty, Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC) releases an original report titled, Children, Yet Convicted as Adults, which challenges Iran’s justifications for the use of capital punishment against child offenders, examines the question of maturity through the lens of empirical scientific research, and calls on the Islamic Republic to take immediate action to ensure that no individual is put to death for crimes committed as a child.

More about the report:

Since the inception of the Islamic Republic of Iran, its criminal law and justice system have facilitated an unprecedented assault on the right to life and due process of law. Based on research carried out by Abdorrahman Boroumand Center for Human Rights in Iran (ABC), nearly two hundred acts are punishable by death in Iran, and only a few of these acts meet internationally-established legal criteria for capital crimes.

Over the past four decades, Iranian courts have sentenced to death tens of thousands of people, including child offenders, for their political and religious beliefs, for exercising the right to freedom of expression and association, for their choice of sexual partners, and for ordinary crimes including drug-related offenses and homicide.[1] Laws in post-revolutionary Iran do not grant leniency in light of an offender’s minor status, and its criminal justice system sets the age of “maturity” at nine lunar years for girls and 15 lunar years for boys.

While the age of criminal responsibility varies greatly from country to country, there is a nearly worldwide consensus that under the age of 18 individuals have not fully developed their faculty of reason and are thus not to be tried and punished as adults. In fact, international law, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) that Iran has ratified, prohibit clearly the execution of individuals for crimes committed before they turn 18. Before the 1979 revolution, and before the existence of the above mentioned conventions, lawmakers in Iran had already integrated this prohibition in the law.

In the early 20th century, the founders of Iran’s modern justice system raised the age of maturity to 18 for boys and girls, prohibiting harsh punishments for children. In the wake of the 1979 revolution, however, leaders of the Islamic Republic revolutionized the justice system and, amid widespread outcry from legal professionals, drastically reduced the age of maturity and criminal responsibility in the laws. The shift, accompanied by systemic due process violations, has had grave and deadly consequences for thousands of minor defendants. To their many critics both foreign and domestic, Iranian authorities have responded with strained religious and cultural justifications, empty promises, or outright misinformation. Their arguments are disputed inside Iran and further weakened by scientific research advancements on adolescent brain development and risk perception.

In summary, the Iranian judiciary’s policy of sentencing and executing juvenile offenders is as indefensible now as it was some four decades ago when the practice began. Justifications offered by Iranian officials are gravely at odds with Iran’s own history, the views of Iranians themselves, Iran’s existing domestic and international law, and scientific assessments. It is time for Iran to face the facts, declare a moratorium on executions, and reform its laws to ensure that individuals under the age of 18 are considered as children in all legislation and in practice. In a context where civil society is persecuted and silenced for criticizing Iran’s laws and practices, the international community must do more to stop the execution of child offenders. Those who engage with Iran on its human rights record need a more effective and transparent strategy to obtain access and data, counter official rationale used to avoid reforming its criminal code, and to hold Iran accountable for violating its international human rights obligations. 

[1] Among them certain drug offenses, murder, and certain hadd crimes, including adultery, incest, rape, "sodomy," lesbianism, "enmity with God" (mohareb), and "corruption on earth" (mofsed fil arz)