A human rights group has called for action on executions for crimes committed by children.

The vast majority of executions of juvenile offenders take place in Iran, where judges can impose the death penalty in capital cases if the defendant has attained “majority,” defined in Iranian law as 9 years for girls and 15 years for boys, says Human Rights Watch.

Iran is known to have executed six juvenile offenders so far in 2008. More than130 other juvenile offenders are currently sentenced to death.

In 2005 Iran sparked international outrage when it publicly executed two teenage boys.

Mahmoud Asgari and Ayaz Marhoni were hanged because according to the regime they were rapists, however gay campaigners insist the boys were killed under Sharia law for the crime of homosexuality.

At first it was claimed by Iranian officials that they were aged 18 and 19.

The best evidence is that both youths were aged 17 when they were executed and therefore minors, aged 15 or 16, at the time of their alleged crimes.

Iranian human rights campaigners estimate that 4,000 gay men have been executed since the Islamic revolution in 1979.

Under Sharia law gay sex illegal, with penalty of death for offenders as young as 14 years old.

“Within the structure of many penal codes (in Iran) sodomy laws are grouped together with rape, sexual assault, incest and sexual abuse of children thereby conflating crimes of sexual violence with acts of non-procreative sex,” according to the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission.

Earlier this year it was reported that the Iranian authorities are considering extending the use of the death penalty to corruption, prostitution and renouncing Islam, or apostasy, on the internet.

HRW said that since January 2005 there have been 32 executions of juvenile offenders in five countries: 26 in Iran, two in Saudi Arabia, two in Sudan, one in Pakistan and one in Yemen.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is due to report back to the General Assembly on follow-up to its December 2007 resolution calling for a moratorium on the death penalty for all crimes.

Human Rights Watch wants UN member states to request a similar report on compliance with the absolute ban on the juvenile death penalty.

Every state in the world has ratified or acceded to treaties obligating them to ensure that juvenile offenders – persons under 18 at the time of the crime – are never sentenced to death.

“We are only five states away from a complete ban on the juvenile death penalty,” said Clarisa Bencomo, Middle East children’s rights researcher for Human Rights Watch.

“These few holdouts should abandon this barbaric practice so that no one ever again is executed for a crime committed as a child.”

HRW report on juvenile executions:

In Saudi Arabia judges have discretion to impose the death sentence on children from puberty or 15 years – whichever comes first.

Saudi Arabia executed at least two juvenile offenders in 2007: Dhahiyan bin Rakan bin Sa`d al-Thawri al-Sibai`i on July 21, 2007, and Mu`id bin Husayn bin Abu al-Qasim bin `Ali Hakami on July 10, 2007.

Hakami was only 13 years old at the time of the alleged crime, and 15 at the time of his execution.

According to his father, Saudi authorities did not inform the family of the execution until days later, and did not return boy’s body.

In Sudan, the 2005 Interim National Constitution allows for the juvenile death penalty for certain crimes, including murder and armed robbery resulting in murder or rape.

Vague language in Sudan’s 2004 Child Law leaves open the possibility that children can still be sentenced to death under the 1991 Penal Code, which defines an adult as “a person whose puberty has been established by definite natural features and who has completed 15 years of age … attained 18 years of age … even if the features of puberty do not appear.”

With more than 35 percent of Sudanese births not registered, even very young juvenile offenders can face execution because they have no birth certificates to prove their age at the time of the offense.

Sudan executed two juvenile offenders, Mohammed Jamal Gesmallah and Imad Ali Abdullah, on August 31, 2005, and has sentenced at least four other juvenile offenders to death since January 2005.

In Pakistan, the Juvenile Justice System Ordinance of 2000 bans the death penalty for crimes committed by persons under 18 at the time of the offense, but authorities have yet to implement it in all territories.

With only 29.5 percent of births registered, juvenile offenders can find it impossible to convince a judge they were children at the time of the crime. Pakistan executed one such juvenile offender, Mutabar Khan, on June 13, 2006.

In Yemen, the Penal Code sets a maximum 10-year sentence for capital crimes committed by persons under 18, but in a country with only 22 percent of births registered and minimal capacity for forensic age determinations, children can find it impossible to prove their age at the time of the crime.

Yemen last executed a juvenile offender, Adil Muhammad Saif al-Ma’amari, in February 2007, despite his allegation that he was 16 at the time of the crime and had been tortured to confess.

According to nongovernmental organisations and government sources, in 2007 at least 18 other juvenile offenders were on death row.