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Handle juvenile delinquents' cases with utmost caution

By Yao Yuxin (China Daily) Updated: 2019-10-30 07:56

Editor's Note: A 13-year-old boy who killed a 10-year-old girl after failing to rape her in Dalian, Northeast China's Liaoning province, early this month, may not face trial because minors below the age of 14 are exempted from criminal charges. The case has sparked a heated debate on whether the criminal accountability age should be lowered. Two experts share their views on the issue with China Daily's Yao Yuxin. Excerpts follow:

Educating minors in law should be first priority

A few extreme cases have given rise to the view among some that juvenile offenders are over-protected and don't get due punishment even if they commit a serious crime. Such a view has its roots in the Chinese tradition of "a life for a life".

Juveniles get special protection under the law in almost all countries, so the resultant contradiction between protection and justice should be treated with caution.

Many have appealed that the age for criminal accountability should be lowered on the basis of the physiology, psychology and social maturity of the juveniles. But it is uncertain whether lowering the age of minors for criminal responsibility would lower the rate of juvenile crimes.

Also, apart from the difficulty of measuring the cognitive standards of a juvenile in a country with a population of about 300 million minors aged below 18, the lowering of the age by, say, one year will put much more juveniles behind bars and cost much more resources to the State.

Actually, the number of juvenile cases adjudicated in courts fell, not increased, for nine consecutive years, from 2009 to 2017. It's never wise to take a few extreme cases to lower the age of criminal accountability.

Correcting the wrongs committed by juveniles by teaching them social and moral norms, and educating them in law, rather than lowering the age for criminal responsibility, should be the first priority.

Pi Yijun, a professor of law at China University of Political Science and Law

Juveniles delinquents shouldn't get uniform protection

The law tilts toward giving lenient sentence to juveniles for even serious offenses. Also, the authorities are short of effective support systems to reform juvenile delinquents. Which means judicial leniency could sometimes lead to indulgence, because some juveniles might exploit the loopholes in the law to escape legal punishment, and therefore unwittingly encourage others to commit offenses in the belief they would not be punished.

The over-emphasis on lighter penalties may undermine the power of the law to prevent juveniles from committing crimes. Such over-protection doesn't serve the interest of juveniles, as they may fail to tell right from wrong if they are not duly punished even for serious wrongdoings.

Thus, a set of systems should be established on the basis of international practices. For example, the introduction of accessory punishment in the form of community services may prevent "cross-infection of misconduct" among juvenile delinquents in reform homes, which can be more effective as a warning than probation for educating minor offenders.

Besides, a mechanism should be established to expunge the criminal records of juveniles after they serve their "sentence" so they can get another chance to start a new life. Due to the lack of elasticity, the judiciary cannot punish even those juvenile who have committed a serious crime knowing full well its consequences.

Measures should also be taken to plug the loopholes in the law, meaning juveniles aged below 14 but relatively mature should be held accountable for felony, and convicted for committing a crime such as homicide and rape.

It's necessary to change the mechanism of unilateral protection for juvenile delinquents, as the interests of the victims and their families should also be protected.

Qin Tao, an associate professor at the law school, East China University of Science and Technology in Shanghai

The views do not necessarily represent those of China Daily.

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