Death Penalty


Death penalty is the punishment by death for capital criminal offences which includes murder. Death penalty is also often referred to as capital punishment derived from the Latin word ‘capitalis’ which literarily refers to execution by beheading the convicted criminal. Criminal offences that often attract death penalty varies from drug trafficking, political and religious rebellion, treason, espionage, and various categories of murders such as murder committed during aircraft hijacking or kidnapping. Death penalty remains a subject of controversy among many people in many provinces, states and countries of the world depending on cultural, political and ideological differences.

The Historical Background of Death Penalty

Capital punishment has been used as a means to suppress political opponents, religious dissidents and to punish various criminal acts in nearly all primitive practices of societies and by authoritarian governments. In some primitive societies, sexual offences such as incest, rape, sodomy, and adultery have been punished with death penalty. Islamic countries have a record of the execution of people for religious crimes such as apostasy and China has a record of imposition of death sentence for gross cases of corruption and for human trafficking. Militaries around the world are known to have imposed death penalty on soldiers and officers of the armed forces for crimes such as mutiny, cowardice, insubordination and desertion.

The Scale of Global Practice of Death Penalty

While about thirty six (36) countries still impose death penalty, one hundred and three (103) countries have abolished the practice completely for all forms of crimes, and six (6) countries impose it only for special criminal offences like war crimes leaving out ordinary criminal offences like murder. Individuals under the age of eighteen (18) as at the time the criminal offence was committed are generally prohibited from death penalty in most countries since 2009 in compliance with the provisions of international law except in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, and Sudan.

Recent Public Opinion on Death Penalty

Opinions for and against death sentence abound and differ greatly among people based on the nature of the crime and by country though many agreed that capital punishment remains a strong deterrence to people who are criminally minded. Most people in countries such as Australia, Norway, New Zealand, the United States, France, Finland, and Italy are strongly opposed to the imposition of death penalty. In recent times, many Indians have shown strong support for death penalty mainly because several brutal cases of rape have been on the increase since 2010. In South Africa, there is a growing support among youth for the reintroduction of death penalty which was abolished in 1995.