Cuba’s Experience in the Attention of Minors

with Conduct Disorder

by Professor Juan Mendoza Díaz, Vice Dean

School of Law, University of Havana

Vice-president of the National Union of Cuban Jurists

swfd-juan.jpgProfessor Juan Mendoza D'iaz

Historical Outline

            In present day Cuba, the care of minors with conduct disorders, including prevention and delinquency interventions, is intrinsically bound to a social system where multiple sectors of society are mobilized to address particular disorders. Behavior problems are regarded as integral concerns of society and therefore become agents of change within a global social enterprise.

            The Cuban system for controlling juvenile law transgressors dates back to the Spanish Penal Code of 1870, established during Spanish colonial times. A person between the ages of 9 and 16 was then considered a minor; while for judicial proceedings, youth in the 16 and 17 year-old range were considered adults, subject to less severe penalties than those prescribed for similar offenses

under general law for adults. In 1900, during the U.S. occupation of Cuba, under orders of the American Military Governor assigned to the Island, correctional schools were established for the internment of minors who committed light offenses; while serious offenders were subject to incarceration in adult penal institutions.

            In 1936, Cuba’s legislative body enacted its first republican Penal Code, thus repealing

Penal Code from the Spanish colonial period. Under this set of laws, minor offenders were subject to Penal Law; however, changes were also introduced that included the imposition of penal responsibilities on minors between 12 and 18 years of age. Offenders in this age group were subject to tutelary or guardianship action, such as, home detention, school or private institution internment, hospitalization, or assignment to a work center, among others. Incarceration assigned for grave law transgressors took place in so called “juvenile reformatories.”

            With the triumph of The Cuban Revolution in 1959 a transformation process was placed

in the system of attention to minors with conduct disorder. High illiteracy, begging, child work, early prostitution, and social alienation offered fertile grounds for the proliferation of behavioral anomalies among the young. However, these social ills were abated with the expansion of health care benefits and access opportunities in sports and education for vast segments of the population, in particular marginalized and impoverished youth prone to criminal behavior.

            Changes also occurred in the delivery system of juvenile penal justice. In 1959, the first institution was established with technical personnel for the evaluation, case analysis, and diagnosis of youth offenders. The aim was to provide judicial tribunals with an integrated analysis of the offender’s characteristics and thus assist in the prescription of corrective measures.

            In 1962, the problem of minors with behavior disorders became the responsibility of a department of the Ministry of the Interior. This department supervised the centers in charge of diagnosis and case evaluation, as well as the rehabilitation centers assigned to minors in fulfillment of court sentences. Within established norms, during the decade of the 60's, the Center for the Evaluation, Analysis and Guidance of Minors (known under the Spanish acronym CEAOM, Centro de Evaluación, Análisis y Orientación de Menores) was created as a subdivision of the Ministry of the Interior, staffed with education specialists from various disciplines linked to the work with minors.

            The establishment of CEAOM marked a major step in the development of a professional approach in addressing problems of minors in conflict with the law – scientific methods were introduced in what had been purely an empirical process. This center was linked to universities and Cuban institutions in charge of social research, and as such offered new perspectives to the problems confronting minors and adolescents in Cuban society.

A Legal Breakthrough – Law No. 64

            The decade of the 70s, called the “institutionalization period,” marked the beginnings of

a process directed toward the enactment of regulatory laws and procedures. It is worth noticing that for more than 100 years, Spanish colonial legislation had been in effect in Cuba. During this decade, the following codes and acts, among others, were enacted: the Socialist Constitution, the Family Code, the Penal Procedures Act, the Civil Procedures Act, the Penal Code, and the Children and Youth Code. Despite the many legislative changes that occurred in the 70s, the first substantive transformation in the system of attention to minor transgressors occurred on December 30, 1982, as a result of the enactment of Law No. 64, known as Methods for the Care of Minors with Conduct Disorders (Sistema para la atencion a menores con trastornos de conducta).

            The innovative aspect of this regulatory legislation lies in the fact that the law itself does not establish an entity in charge of the judgement of minors, but instead creates an “integral system” to attend to their problems. This system extends beyond minor law offenders to those who exhibit various behavioral anomalies, including those with problems of school adaptability. No age limit is established for the attention of minors, as occurs in other countries and as had been designated in previous legislation. As a norm, the category of minor is fixed up to age 16, thus Law No. 64 is applicable to them. Above that age, a young person may be charged with penalties and must respond to ordinary court tribunals; although the law provides them with more lenient sanctions.

Minors who may require attention

            Minors who exhibit the following types of behavior are subject to monitoring and particular attention by the social work system.


            1.          Conduct disorder leading to a permanent maladjustment to the general educational system. Although these minors are not in conflict with the penal system, they are deemed to require social intervention.


            2.         Antisocial behavior in conflict with the norms of daily living, without showing evidence of significant danger to society. These are minors who have violated the law, in cases such as, personal abuse, petty thefts, light physical harm, etc.


            3.         Behavior which is in open conflict with the penal system. Typically, minors who commit criminal acts that evidence a danger to society. Also included in this category are minors who exhibit patterns of transgressive behavior with implications of constant and aggressive threat against norms of coexistence with others.

            The law stipulates a series of measures that may be adopted to assist in the reorientation or reeducation of minors. Here is a partial list of measures to be considered:


          Internment or obligatory attendance at a conduct school directed by the Ministry of Education, or internment in a reeducation center of the Ministry of the Interior;


          Obligatory interment in one of the assistance centers under the direction of the Ministry

            of Health;


          Placement under compulsory ambulatory medical treatment;


          Subjection to surveillance and attention by personnel of the Ministry of the Interior;


          Reinforcement of vigilance by parents, tutors, or persons in care of minor;


          Individualized school attention, aimed at behavior correction outside of school internment;


          Placement in a trade school, or work center; and


          Placement under the care of social workers of the Cuban Federation of Women.

            As has been noted, the system offers multiple measures that range from internment, aimed at correcting grave and dangerous behavior, all the way to a combined set of means of attention developed with family participation in conjunction with organizations and entities linked to an integral System for the Attention of Minors.

The Cuban ModelNot Linked to Correctional Centers

            Perhaps the most significant characteristic of the Cuban model lies in the fact that responsibility for treatment, evaluation and effectuation, is outside the domain of social institutions linked to correctional centers that aim to reduce delinquency. The system is regulated at the top by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of the Interior as supervising entities that undertake multiple tasks; and includes behavioral specialists together with a set of institutions that form the main social actors and the core of Cuba’s civil society. These intermediary institutions include:


                      A Provincial Commission, presided by a member of the provincial government from each of the 14 provinces;


                      A National Council for the care of minors with representatives (with voice and vote) from the following social institutions: Ministry of Public Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of the Interior, Cuban Federation of Women, Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, Cuban Workers Union, National Association of Small Farmers, Communist Youth Union, Federation of Secondary School Students, and the José Martí Pioneers Organization;


                      Provincial councils for the care of minors subordinated to the Ministry of the Interior;


                      Specialized centers for diagnostic and guidance subordinated to the Ministry of Education; and


                      Regimented Schools subordinated to the Ministry of Education and Reeducation Centers under the Ministry of the Interior.

            Since the enactment of Law 64, Cuban society has acquired a greater degree of complexity. During the decade of the 90s, substantial changes occurred in the economy after

the fall of socialism from Europe. The ensuing opening of Cuba to international markets,

together with a major increase in tourism plus other economic activities resulted in a large

foreign presence.


            The legalization of foreign currency possession and the deep economic crisis experienced in the 1990's brought significant changes in social patterns of conduct. This was paralleled by the emergence of social inequalities that were not present in previous years. These changes in the social landscape facilitated the rise of antisocial behavior in minors, such as prostitution, drug consumption, and begging among others; conduct with precedents in the pre-revolutionary era, but that had been eliminated from Cuban social reality.

            Consequently, the work of attention to minors has been made more complex and has required a major effort from all the players in the social system. Above all this is the fact that Cuba has given decisive endorsement to various major international agreements for the protection of the rights of children; such as, the Minimum Rules of the United Nations for the Administration of Justice to Minors (Rules of Beijing), the Directives of the United Nations for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency (Riad Directives) and the International Convention on Children’s Rights.


Minors as Subjects of Rights, Not Objects of “Protection”


            Presently there is international consensus in questioning the tutelage system of attention

to minors. Instead, there is impetus for the implementation of a system that considers minors as subjects of rights and not objects of “protection.” In this direction, certain elements are noted

for a new “justice model” or “responsibility model” schema for minors:


                      A greater approach to adult penal justice with respect to rights and individual guarantees;


                      A strengthening of youth legal positions;


                      A greater responsibility for youth;


                      Limiting justice intervention to the bare minimum;


                      A wide spectrum of measures or juridical responses to the crime, based on educational principles, and reduction to the minimum of sanctions that deprive of liberty;


                      A greater attention given to the victims, under the concept of necessity of reparations to victims and society; and


                      A preservation for youth, educational principles that in “theory” have predated juvenile legislation, giving priority attention to personal, familial and social needs of the minor.




            Cuban professionals are well aware that the present system must be subject to modifications. Conceptual foundations are being debated by academics and personnel within social organizations with respect to variants and modalities that may be adopted in the future.


            A system for the care of minors with transgressive behavior depends upon a political will aimed at the elimination of causes and conditions that create a favorable milieu for delinquency within sectors of society. Nothing is solved by adopting new laws while maintaining unscathed the bases of inequality. For today’s Cuba, a main concern is the guarantee of a system that gives priority attention to youth and children while working towards the elimination of social conditions that facilitate the emergence of damaging behavior.


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