Violent youth crimes in Brazil spark debate over sentencing of minors

Brasilia, May 1 (EFE).- A series of horrific crimes attributed to minors has touched off a debate in Brazil about the age at which young offenders should be allowed to be charged as adults, with those demanding tougher sentences for youth convicts pitted against humanitarian groups and the federal government.

In the latest shocking crime, a female dentist was burned alive by a 17-year-old robber after he only found 30 reais ($15) in her possession.

Days earlier, two minors aged 14 and 15 stabbed and killed a 70-year-old woman during an attempt to steal her car, while in March a man was slain at the door of his home by a robber a few days shy of his 18th birthday.

All three crimes occurred in Sao Paulo.

In response, Sao Paulo state Gov. Geraldo Alckmin has proposed stiffening penalties in cases of murders, rapes and other serious crimes committed by minors.

He has won the backing of some political parties but been opposed by human rights groups and President Dilma Rousseff's administration.

"I'm against it. Anyone who believes crime prevention can be achieved by waving a magic wand ignores the real problems afflicting our society today," Justice Minister Jose Eduardo Cardozo said.

The minister said putting minors in adult prisons would only exacerbate the problem given the "reality" of the country's prisons, which he characterized as "schools of crime."

Brazil has the world's fourth-largest prison population after the United States, Russia and China, with 514,000 inmates, 30 percent more than the institutions were built to hold.

Around 18,000 juvenile offenders are housed at detention centers until the age of 18, when they are released with a clean slate regardless of the crime they committed.