December 7, 2005

Criminal Code restricts media and sets age of consent at 14

The Czech Republic is poised to adopt sweeping changes to its Criminal Code after a 13-year effort to rewrite statutes that were last amended in 1961.

The new code would, among other things, lower the age for consensual sex and criminal responsibility from 15 to 14, proposals that have created debate among Czech media, lawyers and academics.

The proposed code, which would come into effect in January 2007, cleared a major hurdle Nov. 30 when the Chamber of Deputies passed the measure by a vote of 106 to 69. The Senate is expected to follow suit next month, and President Václav Klaus would then have to sign the changes into law.

The local media has been critical of the move to lower the age of consensual sex, though the proposed new age is in line with other European countries.

Lawyers and sociologists are split on whether changing the age of criminal responsibility is a good thing.

“I welcome the decision,” says Dagmar Raupachová, a private lawyer. “I think it should have been made earlier. The young today grow up faster and hand in hand with this must come responsibility.”

The proposed change comes at a time when the number of juveniles committing murder is on the rise. In 2000, no juveniles committed murder, according to Czech police. In 2004, eight did. In August of that year, six youths stabbed 81-year-old pensioner Anna Otčenášková to death in Olešnice, east Bohemia. At the time, only one could be convicted; the rest were under 15.

Supporters say the aim of the Criminal Code change is prevention and rehabilitation: The state is promising programs that target troubled youth.

Sociologist Jiřina Šiklová, however, argues, “Young people today are growing up faster; some violate the law, but the state cannot be in charge of their upbringing.”

Other proposed changes include: loosening restrictions on soft drugs like marijuana; toughening penalties for drunken driving and for those who commit serious crimes like rape and murder; and a so-called media law, supported by Prime Minister Jiří Paroubek, that would make tape recording someone without permission illegal.

— Kristína Mikulová and Iva Skochová contributed to this report.

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