The national government will move forward with plans to lower the age of criminal responsibility to 15, media reports suggested.
A draft bill is ready to be sent to Congress for a vote during special sessions in February, the Clarín newspaper reported.
The proposed age of 15 is the result of a reported arm wrestle between more moderate factions and hardliners within the Cambiemos (Let's Change) ruling coalition, the latter of whom wanted the age of criminal responsibility lowered to 14.
Several bills have floated around Congress on this matter since 2009. Among proponents of bills to lower the age to as low as 14 are Civic Coalition party leader Elisa Carrió and Argentina's self-styled Jair Bolsonaro, lawmaker Alfredo Olmedo.
Security Ministry Patricia Bullrich was also among those pushing for the age of criminal responsibility to be slashed to 14 years. However, she ultimately gave her approval of the bill in its current form to Justice Minister Germán Garavano in order to facilitate negotiations in Congress, where leftist opposition and moderate parties will reportedly oppose the bill, the Noticias Argentinas news agency reported.
The Macri government has been pursuing similar reform since 2017. It had even secured cross party support from the likes of conservative Peronist Miguel Pichetto, the JP Peronist Party's Senate minority leader. However, PRO party strategists pulled the government away from the measure amid concerns about a voter backlash.
Most minors in Argentina who are detained for criminal activity commit property related crimes, according to official data. There are currently 871 youths aged 15 to 17 years in prisons in the country, UNICEF reported, describing proposed changes to criminal responsibility legislation as "not contributing" to tackling youth criminality.
If passed, the law would limit prison time for 15 to 18-year-olds to 15 years while restricting the prosecution of minors aged 15-years-old to "serious" crimes including murder, rape, assault, extortive kidnapping and armed robbery.
In the case of 16- to 18-year-olds, punishable crimes include all those whose maximum possible prison sentence is greater than three years. Fifteen-year-olds charged with those crimes will be forced to partake in specialist assistance programmes.
The bill would replace another law which was passed during the country's 1976-1983 military dictatorship.
Leftist factions in the opposition this week lambasted the government and took particular aim at Bullrich.
"It is unsurprising that Patricia Bullrich is developing a similar discourse and profile to (Brazil president) Jair Bolsonaro. She is a brut, a fascist and [she is] ignorant", lawmaker Leonardo Grosso wrote on Twitter.
"According to UCA (the Argentine Catholic University) and UNICEF, 51.7 percent of people under the age of 17 are poor; 40.2 percent have never read a book; 22 percent share a mattress to sleep and 17 percent never celebrated their birthdays. And the only proposal from (President Mauricio) Macri and Bullrich is to send them to prison?", he pondered.
Workers Party legislator in the Buenos Aires City Legislature Gabriel Solano described the bill as reinforcing "repression" as a political tool.
"After the new weapons protocol (liberalising gun controls for police and security officers) and the purchase of Taser pistols, the government now wants to reduce the age of criminal responsibility. A government in crisis always reinforces repression", he said.
The Security Ministry last week announced the purchase of 300 Taser guns for federal offices.
"The purchase (of Tasers) on the part of the Security Ministry for Federal Police is senseless", the Buenos Aires City People Ombudsman Gabriels Fucks said.
He described it and the recent presidential decree liberalising gun controls for federal agents as "policing practices which are contrary to international accords".