Controversy over proposal to lower age for criminal liability

By Liu Xin Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/14 18:03:41

A juvenile delinquent in custody is invited to a middle school in Tangshan, North China's Hebei Province, to tell his story with the aim of preventing juvenile crimes. Photo: VCG

Dozens of deputies to the National People's Congress (NPC) proposed during the two sessions lowering the age of criminal liability for young people to 12 years old, in response to the increasing number of reports on juveniles being involved in violent cases in recent years.

The proposal has triggered discussions on Chinese social media, with many supporting the proposal, hoping it will stop juvenile offenders escaping punishment after committing serious crimes.

Others are against it, saying the correct way to reduce juvenile delinquency lies in the involvement of the whole of society.

Together with 29 other deputies to the NPC, Liu Xiya, principal of Xiejiawan Primary School in Southwest China's Chongqing Municipality, proposed amending the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Minors, thepaper.cn reported on Tuesday. 

The deputies suggest changing the lowest age at which young offenders are criminally liable to 12 years old, and the age for taking partial criminal liability to between 12 and 14 years old.

Young offenders aged between 12 and 14 must take criminal responsibility for vicious crimes, and young offenders aged above 14 should be fully criminally liable.

According to China's Criminal Law, anyone who has reached the age of 16 and commits a crime bears criminal responsibility.

A person who has reached the age of 14 but not 16 who commits intentional homicide, intentionally hurts another person to cause serious injury or death, or commits rape, robbery, drug-trafficking, arson, explosion or poisoning shall bear criminal responsibility.

Anyone between 14 and 18 who commits a crime shall be given a lighter or mitigated punishment, according to the Criminal Law.

Escaping punishment

In recent years, the media has exposed several controversial cases in which young people who committed serious crimes have escaped punishment as they were below the age of criminal liability.

Three cases of juveniles committing homicide occurred in Central China's Hunan Province from December 2018 to January - a 12-year-old boy killed his mother, a 13-year-old boy killed his parents with a hammer and a 13-year-old boy stabbed a 12-year-old classmate to death. 

Some juveniles are well aware that they can escape punishment due to their age and continue to commit other crimes.

Society sees them as juveniles but they regard the public as fools. Lowering the age of criminal liability is the way to stop their crimes, read a commentary released on iqilu.com. 

Many netizens agreed with the commentary, saying that the current age for criminal liability should not be used as a free pass for committing crimes.

However, Zong Chunshan, director of the Beijing Youth Legal and Psychological Consultation Service Center, disagreed with amending the age.

"Lowering the age of criminal responsibility will not reduce juvenile delinquency, since the deeper reasons lie in the absence of guardians, school education and social support.

And one characteristic of juvenile offenders is that they never consider the consequences when committing crimes, and lowering the age of criminal responsibility will not stop them from doing wrong," Zong Chunshan told the Global Times.

Peng Xinlin, a professor from Beijing Normal University, was quoted by Legal Mirror as saying that the public should take an objective and reasonable view toward the crimes of minors and not let individual cases influence their judgment.

"The Criminal Law has set clear stipulations on the age for juveniles to take criminal liability, which is in accordance with the principle that education is more important than punishment," Peng said.

Guo Chaowen, a Beijing-based lawyer, told the Global Times that although there is a trend for lowering the age for criminal liability due to the rapid development of juveniles' physical and mental growth, there is no rush to amend it right now.

"The procedure for lowering the age of criminal liability should go with the education situation in the whole country and should not be done in one go. For example, putting juveniles under the age of 14 into prisons or detention facilities would do more harm to their growth as well as to society," Guo said.

The law sets the bottom line for people's actions, and reducing the age of criminal liability would also reduce the space and opportunities for juveniles to correct their mistakes, Zong said.

All-round efforts

Zong said, "Preventing juvenile crimes only by amending laws without involving more efforts from guardians and schools is like trying to milk a bull.

We should now be making more efforts to establish centers and schools which can correct these juvenile offenders."

Peng believes that multiple measures should be taken to prevent juvenile delinquency, including improving systems to prevent bullying in schools, improving the living and studying environment for juveniles and offering support for minors and families who need help.

Peng said that taking in juveniles who escape punishment due to their age and offering them interventional education would be a good way to save those who go astray and safeguard social stability.

The proposal made by the 30 deputies also noted the importance of supervising juvenile offenders. A long-term tracking system of these juveniles should be established with working staff from the judicial authorities.

A draft for the amendment of the Law of the People's Republic of China on the Protection of Minors has been drawn up and will be handed to the Standing Committee of the NPC to review in October, according to thepaper.cn.
Newspaper headline: Too young to pay


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