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Scheme helps reform young offenders
By Meng Yan (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-23 09:28

Legal experts are calling for the promotion of community-based re-education programmes to prevent and tackle juvenile delinquency more effectively.

"Diversion programmes could give children in conflict with the law another chance to reintegrate with society," said Guo Jian'an, director of the Institute for Crime Prevention under the Ministry of Justice.

Practical diversion mechanisms provide community-based alternatives to the justice system. They use diverse, individually tailored methods to educate juvenile offenders.

It is an organic part of the juvenile justice system. Warning, education and pre-trial mediation are all forms of diversion.

Guo said diversion underpins protection of children and the responsibility of society rather than punishment for the offenders.

"The focus on prevention and diversion into community-level alternatives will assist their reintegration into society and is more effective at preventing their reoffending," Guo said.

The proportion of juvenile offenders among criminal suspects under arrest is increasing year-by-year, reaching 9.1 per cent in 2003. But China has not established a separate juvenile justice system for its population of roughly 360 million minors.

Ju Qing, director of the Legal Division of the China Youth Development Research Centre, said young people aged between 10 and 18 are a special group prone to misbehaviour and even conflict with the law.

She said formal justice system was not the best option because the label of lawbreaker might affect their future even though they have paid for their mistakes.

"Community-based re-education will provide these children with a normal environment for them to change," Ju said.

Funded by Save the Children, a British charity organization, a trial diversion programme was launched two years ago in Panlong District of Kunming, the capital of Southwest China's Yunnan Province.

Liu Ming (not his real name), 16, is one of the eight early beneficiaries.

Helped by his father, Liu went to the police to confess to the robbery of a mobile phone, a bicycle and cash.

Instead of being sent to a remand home, Liu returned to his school which had earlier expelled him for his poor performance. In three months, Liu outperformed his peers in the mid-term examination.

"I never expected him to change so much and I have never expected that his progress could be a stimulus for other students," said a teacher surnamed Wang.

Ju said the diversion programme requires much more commitment from local communities.

"Local governments, professional social workers and the whole community should join their efforts to save these children," she said.

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