China mulls lowering criminal liability age from 14 to 12

By Chen Shasha and Huang Lanlan Source: Global Times Published: 2020/10/14 0:46:46


A new draft amendment to China’s Criminal Law stipulates that any person aged above 12 and below 14 who commits the crime of intentional homicide or intentional injury causing someone’s death shall be subject to criminal responsibility upon approval by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, lowering the current criminal liability age of 14 to 12.

The draft was submitted on Tuesday to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China's top legislative body, for a second review.

It also asks to carry out specific correctional education for young offenders, instead of simply sheltering and rehabilitating them.

The proposal to lower the age of criminal liability is a response to public concern about the recent increase in juvenile violence, said lawyer Zheng Ziyin, director of a professional committee on minor protection laws under the Guangdong Lawyers Association.

The number of crimes committed by juveniles saw a rise from 2018 to 2019 after falling since 2014, said a white paper released by the Supreme People’s Procuratorate in June.

The main crimes by minors included theft, robbery, intentional injury, gathering to fight, provocation and rape, the report said.

“Lacking clear legal constraints [on the offenders aged under 14], sometimes we had to just set them free,” Zheng told the Global Times Tuesday, saying that simply releasing those “little devils” may cause hidden trouble in society.

Zheng mentioned a case he dealt with: A then 13-year-old boy surnamed Wei didn’t face criminal responsibility after killing a 4-year-old child. Having not received any punishment, it seemed Wei didn’t fear the law, as he raped and killed an 11-year-old girl in 2015. This time, the then 19-year-old Wei was sentenced to death.

The minimum age of criminal responsibility differs among countries and regions. For instance, the age of criminal responsibility in Luxembourg is 18, both Germany and Japan set it at 14, and Canada and the Netherlands at 12. In England and Wales, children aged 10 can be convicted of a crime. In Thailand, the age is 7.

The current 14-year-old criminal liability age in China was set by the Chinese Criminal Law of 1997. It has been a hot topic in China in recent years as vicious crimes committed by juveniles occur now and then, with many believing the current rule is not applicable to the social reality anymore. Some have appealed for the regulations to be amended and for the liability age to be lowered to restrain juvenile delinquency.

The draft clause sparked heated discussion on China’s social media. As of press time, the hash tag "People aged from 12 to 14 may be criminally liable for intentional homicide and other crimes" on Sina Weibo had been read 530 million times, and generated 450,000 comments.

Many applauded the move and showed their support for the proposal, saying that some juveniles now have the potential to cause harm equal to that of adult offenders, saying that age should not be the only criteria to judge criminal liability in case it allows more juvenile delinquency.
“I support the amendment. Many minors are taking advantage of the protection of juveniles and commit crimes even though they know that they are breaking the law; there is no cost to crime for them,” one netizen named Aumiaodeshijiaihaozhe commented.

“Children today grow faster, stronger and get mature earlier than before. They now have access to more information. The 14-year-old is no longer a child who knows nothing. There is no way to make a judgment based on the standards of decades ago,” Geng Xiangshun, a writer and a blogger commented.

The clause also reminded people about a 2019 case in which a 13-year-old boy in Dalian in Northeast China's Liaoning Province murdered a 10-year-old girl and threw her body in the bushes after his attempt to rape the girl failed.

The offender was exempted from criminal liability and only given a three-year “detain for education” sentence due to his age.

His parents, who were ordered by the court to pay 1.28 million yuan to the victim’s family and apologize publicly, have not yet complied.

“I hope the Dalian boy will pay the price for his evil and be punished according to the law,” one netizen said.

There have also been calls to strengthen psychological and sex education for juveniles from an early age, teaching the young to respect life and others so as to prevent juvenile delinquency.

Lowering the age of liability may restrain the extreme behavior of those aged under 14 like Wei, Zheng said. “But more importantly, we should also step up efforts in juvenile crime prevention, and try hard to help them correct their wrongdoing instead of simply putting them in jail,” he said.

Caring for the physical and mental health of teenagers is not only the work of legislators, but also the responsibility of families, schools and the whole of society, Zheng added.

Posted in: LAW

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