Fri, May 23, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Argentina debates law after two boys torture girl to death

AP , BUENOS AIRES

Two brothers, ages seven and nine, told psychiatrists they slowly, coldly tortured a two-year-old girl to death — a revelation that has Argentines debating whether to do away with a law prohibiting the prosecution of minors for terrible crimes.

Judge Marta Pascual said the children confessed to slaying little neighbor Milagros Belizan in a shantytown south of the capital.

“They understood her pain but it did not move them,” said Pascual, a youth judge for Buenos Aires’ Lomas de Zomara district, after meeting with psychiatrists who examined the boys. “In some form it gave them pleasure.”

Belizan disappeared from her home in the Almirante Brown neighborhood on Sunday. Her family found her body in a vacant lot 10 blocks away.

She had been stripped naked, beaten and strangled with a telephone cord that was left around her neck. The discovery prompted neighbors to attack an adult suspected of the crime before the two boys confessed.

Argentine law prohibits the prosecution of anyone under 18 years old. Instead, such juveniles are generally held in youth homes until they reach 18, when they are released without further punishment.

Sunday’s killing has many Argentines calling for stiffer punishments — including prosecuting them once they come of age.

“There’s the idea among Argentine lawyers, psychologists and sociologists that the child is always the victim and can never be the victimizer,” constitutional lawyer Gregorio Badeni said on Wednesday. “But if it were up to the people living in the shantytown where that little girl was murdered, they would kill the two boys.”

Other Argentines disagreed that child killers should be tried.

“These two boys are victims just like the poor girl they killed,” family psychologist Cristina Castillo said. “Even if the boys knew what they were doing, they couldn’t be aware of the consequences of their actions. They couldn’t know they were going to kill the girl.”

Since such awareness usually comes only after adolescence, Castillo said the responsibility for the crime lies with the boys’ parents and the society in which they were raised.

Authorities have not released the boys’ identities, but said they were neighbors of the girl, who lived in a wood-slat shack in the shantytown of dirt streets.

Pascual has ordered the whereabouts of the two boys and their mother kept secret, Almirante Brown Police spokesman Raul Leguizamon said.

“From the very first moment they found out about the crime, a large group of neighbors wanted to take justice into their own hands,” Leguizamon said.

The newspaper Clarin reported that neighbors said the boys were frequently beaten by their mother and had been out of school for two years. They were often seen throwing stones at other children, the paper said.

Neighbors later told police they had seen the boys with the little girl and then leaving the pit. Confronted, both boys then confessed.

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