Prosecuting pirates
Political Conflict

The Issue of Juvenile Piracy

Author(s): Jon Belish
Date: June 15, 2015
Publication Type: Book Chapter
Research Topics: Political Conflict


This chapter was published as part of the book Prosecuting Maritime Piracy, editors Michael P. Scharf, Michael Newton, and Milena Sterio (Cambridge University Press). The book addresses distinctive issues that arise during the course of domestic maritime piracy prosecutions.

This chapter shows how limited economic opportunities in Somalia drive juveniles to turn to maritime piracy, a livelihood that is potentially lucrative, even while illicit and dangerous. It is likely that up to a third of all pirates operating off the Coast of Somalia at any given time are under 15 years old. The prevalence of juveniles among those captured by international naval forces in the Indian Ocean complicates the treatment of pirates at all phases of the judicial process. The purpose of this chapter is to raise the legal and practical issues associated with the prosecution of juvenile pirates, and to discuss state practice as it relates to those issues.

Key Findings:

  • The first two sections of this chapter review international legal norms related to the treatment of juveniles, focusing on the concept of minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) under national and international law, and the special rights afforded to juveniles under relevant multilateral treaties and international instruments.
  • The next section considers practical issues associated with the prosecution of juvenile pirates. Juvenile-specific legal issues arise when considering the release of a juvenile immediately upon capture, determining the age of a suspected pirate, detaining a suspected pirate pre-trial, ensuring adequate representation during trial, and, assuming the juvenile is found guilty, sentencing the juvenile.
  • Before concluding, the chapter briefly recounts what is known about state practice regarding the treatment of juveniles suspected of piracy on the high seas in France, Germany, India, Italy, Kenya, Malaysia, Seychelles, Spain, and the United States.

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