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Law change to lower minimum detention age

By Xu Wei | China Daily | Updated: 2017-02-20 07:19

A draft law amendment that would lower the minimum age of those who can be detained for noncriminal offenses to 14 has drawn a mixed response from experts.

The Ministry of Public Security released a list of proposed revisions to the Law on Penalties for Administrative Detention last month to seek public opinion.

The list included changing an article that states juveniles aged 14 to 16 cannot receive administrative detention, which is generally used for offenders who commit noncriminal offenses and lasts for about 20 days.

The ministry said the amendment would keep the measure in place only for first-time offenders, which means juveniles as young as 14 could be detained if they reoffend.

Dai Qiuying, an assistant researcher with the Supreme People's Court, told China National Radio that the amendment is understandable, as society has been frustrated with the lack of practical and applicable corrective measures for juvenile offenders.

China has seen a rise in crime involving minors in recent years. A study by the Chinese Society for Juvenile Delinquency Prevention Research estimated that more than 50 percent of juvenile crime is committed by young people age 14 to 16. According to Criminal Law, only residents who are 16 or above can take full criminal liability.

However, legal experts have argued that putting minors in detention should be a last resort.

"There is no detailed research that supports the necessity of lowering the minimum age for administrative detention," said Yao Jianlong, a professor at Shanghai University of Political Science and Law.

He cited an item in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that states "the arrest, detention or imprisonment of a child shall be in conformity with the law and shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time".

The Law on Penalties for Administrative Detention is designed to punish offenders whose violations do not fall under Criminal Law but are still considered to harm society.

Wang Ying, a district prosecutor who regularly handles cases involving minors in Ningbo, Zhejiang province, warned that detaining juveniles could result in long-term psychological damage.

"Minors who are deprived of their personal freedom during age 14 to 16 tend to be more aggressive after they have completed their detention," she told China National Radio.

"The ages 14 to 16 is a period in which a person develops empathy. Forced detention and fear could damage that brain function, which is difficult to recover," she added.

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