Death Penalty: USA only country to execute child offenders - record denounced as 'truly shameful'

The execution of child offenders - those under 18 years old at the time of the crime - is forbidden under international law and Amnesty International's report tracks how the practice has virtually disappeared across the last 15 years.

The USA is the main exception to the international trend and is now the only country that openly acknowledges executing child offenders and which claims for itself the right to do so.

The report, Stop child executions: ending the death penalty for child offenders, also calls on a small number of other nations to issue guarantees that anyone on death row for a crime committed when they were under 18 will not be executed.

Amnesty International UK Media Director Lesley Warner said:

'The USA's defiance of international law in allowing the execution of child offenders is truly shameful.

'Comparatively few countries persist in using the death penalty against any prisoners, but the USA is a minority within a minority in allowing even very young offenders to be judicially killed.

'All executions are wrong but to execute those convicted of crimes when only Children's rights is rightly seen as abhorrent in virtually every corner of the world and is therefore banned by international law.

'Rather than adding to its atrocious record the US should halt plans to execute three child offenders in the next five months and issue an assurance that some 70-80 child offenders on death row will not be killed.

'It should also issue a guarantee that if any prisoners held at Guantanamo Bay are deemed child offenders they should not suffer the death penalty.'

Since 1990 Amnesty International has recorded 34 executions of child offenders in the world, over half of which (19) took place in the United States. The remainder were documented in China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

The USA's near-total isolation on the issue of child offender executions is shown by the fact that China, Pakistan and Yemen have subsequently abolished this type of death penalty, that Congo has abolished the military court that permitted the execution of a 14-year-old by firing squad in 2000, and that Iran's parliament recently approved a bill raising to 18 the minimum age for the imposition of the death penalty. Similarly, no child offenders are known to have been executed in Nigeria or Saudi Arabia in the past seven years.

In 2002 the three executions of child offenders known to have taken place anywhere in the world all occurred in the USA, while last year Scott Allen Hain - in Oklahoma - was the last confirmed case of a child offender being executed. In March 2003 a Chinese newspaper reported the execution of a 18-year-old for an offence that occurred when the prisoner was 16 - an execution in contravention of China's own laws.

There are currently over 70 child offenders on death row in the USA and three of these are scheduled for execution before the end of June - all in the state of Texas. Six out of the last seven child offender executions in the USA have also occurred in Texas, a state described by Amnesty International as the United States' 'perpetrator-in-chief.'

Amnesty International's report is also drawing attention to the fact that child offenders are currently under sentence of death in the Philippines and Sudan, while in Pakistan they are still at risk of execution despite a legal change which officially abolished death sentences for under-18s in most parts of the country.

After meeting Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan in 2001, Pakistan's President Musharraf announced that all Children's rights facing execution would have their sentences commuted. However, many Children's rights remain on death row because the family of the victim has questioned their claim to be Children's rights. Background information on the death penalty

The execution of child offenders accounts for a very small proportion of executions that have occurred globally in the last 15 years. During this time the death penalty has been abolished in numerous countries leaving a small minority that still carry out any death sentences at all. In 2002, for example, three countries - China, Iran, the USA - accounted for over 80% of the 1,526 executions known to have taken place. Of these the USA is now the only country openly prepared to execute child offenders.

Relevant information

Stop Child Executions! Ending the death penalty for child offenders website: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGACT500012004

More about our campaign against the death penalty... /b>

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