Peru’s Recent Attempt to Deter Cellphone Theft and its Implications for Other Latin American Countries 

By: Monserrat Garcia, 2L

A sweeping criminal epidemic has struck several Latin American countries, and Peru is at the forefront of combating it with harsh criminal penalties for what most countries charge as a typical petty crime. In the initial nine months of 2023, the Peruvian telecommunication authority recorded approximately 1.2 million cellphone thefts. In response to the surge in cellphone thefts, the Peruvian government has introduced amendments to its penal code and imposed stringent criminal penalties for cellphone theft. [GN1] 

Before the government evaluated the law, the Peruvian penal code did not include imprisonment for cellphone theft. However, following the enactment of the new legislation, penalties for stealing a cell phone now span a spectrum of lengthy prison sentences designed to crack down on this crime. Now, The minimum sentencing for cellphone theft is 12 years in prison for any individual involved in stealing a cell phone and may extend to 30 years behind bars if a perpetrator uses a weapon or explosive device during the theft. In the most severe cases, where the robbery results in the loss of life, the offender faces the grim possibility of life in prison.  

Unfortunately, Peru is not the only country in Latin America affected by the cellphone theft epidemic. The demand for affordable second-hand cell phones has created a lucrative underground market driven by the theft and resale of these mobile devices. According to the 2017 report by the Telecommunications Management Group (TMG) on cellphone theft in Latin America, cellphone theft became the fastest-growing crime in Columbia during the first half of 2017. Over time, Latin American countries have adopted several anti-theft policies to combat this issue. One such measure is the creation of blacklists, which catalog reported stolen devices to prevent their connection to mobile networks, rendering them useless. Another measure taken has been enforcing mandatory cellphone registration, creating a whitelist of approved mobile devices eligible for mobile network connection. Despite these policies inducing notable change, they have yet to cure the cellphone theft epidemic afflicting Latin America.

By implementing one of the more stringent punishments for cellphone theft, Peru has sparked conversation in other Latin American nations. For example, the Medellin, a prominent travel resource page for Columbia, published an article advocating adopting similar punitive measures for this crime. The Medellin article delved into the dire consequences of the alarmingly high number of cellphone thefts in the country and their potential impact on tourism, an industry upon which almost all Latin American countries heavily depend. The momentum generated by conversations like these could pave the way for the widespread implementation of harsh penalties throughout Latin America, redefining what was once considered a petty crime.  

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