Somalia currently has one of the world's least developed economies. According to the United Nations Development Programme, Somalia's GDP per capita of U.S. $284 is the fourth lowest in the world, and 73 percent of all Somalis purchase less than $2 worth of goods and services per day. Somalia's youth bear the brunt of this weak economy. In 2012, Somalia's overall unemployment rate was 54 percent, and its youth unemployment was a full 67 percent. This is all the more striking in a country where an estimated 73 percent of the entire population is below the age of 30.
With this limited economic opportunity for such a large group of Somalia's youth, it is no surprise that juveniles have turned to maritime piracy, a livelihood that may be illicit and dangerous but is also potentially lucrative, netting even a low-level pirate thousands of dollars in the event of a successful hijacking. In March 2011, the Indian Navy apprehended a group of 61 pirates and found that 25 of them were below the age of 15 and at least 4 of them were around the age of 11. Overall, it is likely that up to one-third of all pirates operating off the coast of Somalia at any given time are less than 15 years old.
The prevalence of juveniles among those captured by international naval forces patrolling the Indian Ocean complicates the treatment of pirates at all phases of the judicial process, from the moment of capture to the moment of repatriation or sentencing. Piracy's status as a crime of universal jurisdiction has resulted in a multiplicity of jurisdictions being confronted with these issues and a diversity of approaches that inevitably results from varied legal frameworks, norms, and resource constraints. The purpose of this chapter is to introduce the legal and practical issues associated specifically with the prosecution of juvenile pirates and to discuss state practice as it relates to those issues.