Identity checks for 14-year-old: controversy over control law in Chile

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SANTIAGO – Headed to the Senate is a bill to change the identity control law’s minimum age from 18 to 14. If the bill passes, police forces will be able to stop and request identification from anyone age 14 and older. Those in favor claim it’s “urgent”; those against it say it is unnecessary and will be ineffectual.

On March 14, President Sebastián Piñera announced a bill to modify the current identity control law.

The bill, which, according to the president, includes measures to “strengthen” the current preventive control, has generated substantial opposition, because one of its primary changes would allow police forces to stop and request identification from anyone age 14 and older, regardless of whether they are suspected of committing a crime. In contrast, under the current law the minimum age is 18.

Via Twitter, Piñera said that the proposed change comes because the “first concern of Chileans is crime and drug trafficking,” so the first priority of the government “is to combat” these problems.

The identity control law

The existing identity control law dates back to 2016. According to the summary available on the website for Chile’s  “Biblioteca del Congreso” (Library of Congress), the existing law allows Carabineros and investigations police (PDI),  to “control,” i.e., stop and check, the identity of people on public roads, in public places, and in private places with public access.

A key limitation is that the police can only control the identity of adults. Minors will not be checked for identity and, when there is any doubt that a person is 18 or older, it will always be understood that he or she is a minor.

#CalleSegura

The minimum age modification is not the only proposed change. It is part of a broader plan called “#CalleSegura” (Safe Street), that is within the Citizen Security Agenda.

According to Piñera, the plan is to modernize the Carabineros and PDI, to increase the number of Carabineros in the streets by more than 3,000, and to invest in new technologies such as cameras and drones.

Interior Minister Andrés Chadwick said the new identity control law would allow police to make a register of clothing and accessories, such as backpacks or bags, and that cars could also be registered.

Not all minors are white doves

The most controversial change, however, is the change in age.

The executive branch is staunchly behind the decision. According to Chadwick, 29% of auto thefts and nearly 23% of robberies with violence or intimidation involve minors. Last year, cases involving minors possessing or carrying weapons also increased by 46%.

In addition, as daily La Tercera reported, according to 2018 figures from the government, 2,198 minors were arrested for assaults and another 850 for surprise robberies, known as “lanzazos.”

Supporting this decision is Representative Gonzalo Fuenzalida, who posted on his Twitter account a controversial drawing in which a child appears with a mask and the phrase “not all minors are white doves.” To this Fuenzalida added, “The police have to be able to apply identity control to minors. It’s urgent!”

A controversial change

The proposed change has been widely criticized across the spectrum outside Piñera’s administration.

For example, Supreme Court spokesperson Lamberto Cisternas, speaking with Radio Cooperativa, said that international conventions and provisions in Chile’s national legislation already regulate minors, and he cautioned the government not to override that legislation.

Senator Felipe Harboe also provided figures that, according to the Public Ministry and the Public Defender’s Office, indicate that between 2013 and 2017 the participation of adolescents in crimes decreased from 27% to 24%. La Tercera reported the senator as saying that “The problem of juvenile delinquency is solved with social policy and with smart controls and improvements in prevention systems.”

According to the newspaper, former Foreign Minister and chair left-wing PPD party, Heraldo Muñoz, called the bill a “smoke screen.” He said “Piñera must worry about the victims, not just control.” He also suggested the creation of a national victims service, which “facilitates the coordination of the agencies that are [concerned with]this matter.”

Muñoz added that “the focus should be attention to the victims and prevention of the crimes” so it should be a “more integral” solution.

Patricia Muñoz, head of Defensoría de la Niñez, a publicly funded advisory on children’s rights said, according to La Tercera, that during the last three years the number of juvenile offenders between the ages of 14 and 17 gradually declined – a 31% drop nationwide. “That’s why the proposal is even more incoherent, since it is not supported by the evidence,” she said.

Political scientist, Lucía Dammert, of Universidad de Santiago told the university’s publication Diario UChile, “this bill responds to a communication strategy by the executive to resume the agenda with a theme that is security [but]‘serious’ preventive programs are needed.”

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