Iran Killing Kids? Juvenile Death Penalty in the Spotlight

Iran's president has blocked efforts to stop juvenile executions in Iran, according to Human Rights Watch. 

Two teenagers in Iran narrowly escaped the death penalty last month for crimes committed when they were minors. The incident, Human Rights Watch says, highlights Iran's status as the "world leader in juvenile executions."

Sina Paymard, 18, and Ali Alijan, 19, were facing death by hanging for a murder committed when they were under the age of 18.  They were spared after the victim's family granted a pardon. Under Iranian law, the victim's survivors can grant clemency, sometimes taking "blood money" or financial compensation for the crime committed. 

Iran continues to carry the death penalty for juveniles despite having signed and ratified the U.N.'s Covenant on the Rights of the Child, a document that prohibits capital punishment for crimes committed by anyone under 18 years of age. The justice system in Iran is such that if any item in a treaty conflicts with Islamic law, the latter wins the day. Islamic law as practiced in Iran allows the execution of minors.  The United States is not a signatory of the U.N. Covenant on the Rights of the Child.

Lawyers and activists in Iran have been fighting to change the juvenile execution policy and were making progress before the election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, says Hadi Ghaemi of Human Rights Watch.

Since then, momentum has stalled, and legislation has been opposed by Iran's Council of Guardians, a group of conservative clerics with veto power over any law passed by parliament. 

Crimes that can carry the death penalty in Iran range from murder to adultery, drug trafficking to homosexuality, Ghaemi tells ABC News.

A 22-year-old blogger in Tehran who asked to remain anonymous told ABC News that there hasn't been much mention of the Paymard-Alijan case in the local press -- 'nobody speaks about these events' -- and that the issue of juvenile executions has hardly received any mainstream attention. Iran is not the only country which subjects convicted juvenile offenders to capital punishment.Since 2001, the execution of minors has been confirmed in China, Pakistan and the United States. The juvenile death penalty was legal in America until a March 2005 Supreme Court ruling struck it down.

"There is a clear trend away from the death penalty internationally...most of our close allies have abandoned it," says attorney and anti-death penalty activist Richard Dieter. "There may be rogue states and exceptions to the pattern, but the death penalty is dwindling in the international sphere."

It's a trend Dieter and others want to see continue.

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