Murder of 13-y-o by teenagers triggers reflection on juvenile crime
Case could become first nationwide to apply new provision under Criminal Law Amendment
Published: Mar 18, 2024 08:05 PM
rule of law (file photo) Photo: VCG

rule of law (file photo) Photo: VCG

The brutal bullying and murder of a 13-year-old boy in North China's Handan has triggered a profound reflection on juvenile crime in Chinese society over the past few days, with many calling for a more effective way to keep teenagers from veering onto the wrong path. 

Experts on Monday said the murder could become the first case nationwide that applies a new provision under the Criminal Law Amendment, thus serving as an "alarm bell" to warn and educate other potential offenders. The root cause of youth crime lies in the lack of family education and school supervision, with many cases involving left-behind children, they noted. 

According to media reports, seventh-grade boy Xiao Guang (pseudonym) was killed and buried on March 10 by three of his classmates of the same age in Handan, North China's Hebei Province. So far, all suspects have been captured and taken into custody, the joint working group responsible for the case said on Sunday night. 

An autopsy was conducted on the body in the early hours of Monday. Relatives of Xiao Guang told media that Xiao Guang's father examined his child prior to the autopsy and saw clear injuries on the boy's head and back, the Beijing News reported on Monday. Xiao Guang had suffered from long-term school violence, previous media reports said. 

The case swiftly rose to the top of the search list on China's X-like social media platform Sina Weibo on Sunday evening, drawing more than 1 billion views and generating more than 120,000 relevant discussions as of press time, highlighting the explosion of public concern over teenage crime and campus safety. 

Juvenile delinquency, whose rate is higher among left-behind children, can be attributed to various factors, including a lack of family education and inadequate supervision in schools, Liu Changsong, a lawyer with the Beijing Mugong Law Firm, told the Global Times on Monday. "In this case, a junior high school student was bullied for an extended period of time, but the school never paid enough attention."

Furthermore, there is a concerning absence of regulations for minors regarding online violence and pornography, particularly in internet cafes and mobile games. "Many children are given smartphones at a very young age, granting them access to a wide range of online content, which could lead to confusion between the virtual and the real world, and even gamifying acts of violence," Liu said.

Meng Bo, a lawyer at Beijing Jingsh Law Firm, stressed that in preventing juvenile delinquency and combating school bullying, schools, parents, and guardians must all play an active role.

"Schools should establish specialized systems for preventing campus bullying and sexual harassment. They should adopt a zero-tolerance attitude toward offenders, and provide supportive measures for the offended. In cases of severe bullying, schools must not conceal the incidents and should promptly report them to public security authorities," Meng told the Global Times on Monday. 

As for the role of parents and guardians, Meng said the Law on the Protection of Minors clearly specifies that they should not allow minors to bully others, while fulfilling the responsibility of educating and guiding minors to abide by laws and regulations. 

While the Handan case remains unsettled, Meizhou authorities in South China's Guangdong Province put up a notice saying that a boy at the age of 13 surnamed Li had followed a girl to a residential building and sexually harassed her on March 12. It was not until the girl's cries for help drew the attention of passersby that Li stopped the harassment, China Central Television reported on Monday. 

To effectively curb the rising numbers of youth crime in recent years, both punishments and education must be put into place, Liu noted. 

In December 2020, China adopted Amendment XI to the Criminal Law, lowering the age of criminal responsibility for murder and severe injury cases by two years from the previous statutory age of 14. Such prosecution requests must be approved by the Supreme People's Procuratorate, Xinhua News Agency reported.

"The Handan case is likely to be the first instance of this revised provision being applied nationwide," Liu said.

Liu also called for people to remain rational as some angry netizens have called for the death sentence for the suspects. 

"The primary focus in juvenile delinquency should be on education, with punishment serving as a secondary measure."

However, Meng said that in order to deter crimes and minimize the occurrence of teenage offenses, the judiciary should impose strict and severe punishments according to the law, so as to create a safer, healthier, and more civilized environment for minors to grow up in.