Legal Analysis: the Influence of Age on the Sentencing of Palestinian Children in Israeli Military Courts

Legal scholar Hedi Viterbo has conducted a detailed analysis of the influence of child defendants’ ages on the decisions of Israeli military courts in the Occupied Palestinian Territories. Viterbo points out that a defendant’s real or perceived age influences a judge’s sentencing decision, in two ways.

Firstly, Israeli military law divides child prisoners into several categories, each with their own maximum-sentencing requirements. Detained Palestinians under the age of 12 are “children,” 13- and 14-yearolds are “youth,” 15- and 16-yearolds are “tender adults,” and all prisoners over the age of 16 are legally adults. (Israeli military law has evolved somewhat since Viterbo published her research. Military order 1676, released in September 2011, placed children aged 14 through 17 in a new category as “minors” and limits their sentences to twelve months’ imprisonment. According to a recent legal analysis, however, children convicted of throwing stones are exempted from this sentencing limit and are subject to the same penalties as adults convicted of the same offense.)

Secondly, a number of Israeli judges have invoked child defendants’ youthful appearance, independent of their age, as an influence on sentencing decisions. In some cases, a judge reduced a child defendant’s sentence because of his immature appearance. In a few instances, however, judges cited defendants’ youthful demeanor as a reason for longer sentences. In these cases, the judges argued that the child defendant did not have sufficient maturity to resist pressure from adults to commit further illegal acts.

The full text of Viterbo’s paper is available for free download here. Full citation:

Hedi Viterbo, “The Age of Conflict: Rethinking Childhood, Law, and Age Through the Israeli-Palestinian Case,” in Law and Childhood Studies—Current Legal Issues 14 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming).

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